Jonathan Chait

No, Mr. Obama, I Expect You To Die

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Republicans can't seem to stop themselves from revealing their master plan to destroy the Democrats:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicts health care reform will be the central issue in every election contest this fall if Democrats manage to pass the overhaul plan supported by President Barack Obama.

"Every election this fall will be a referendum on this bill," McConnell said Sunday on ABC's "This Week."

McConnell also said he sees no potential upside for the Democrats, at least in the short term. "The benefits don’t kick in for four years," the Senate leader said. "Just looking at the politics of it there’s nothing but pain here for the next four years. Why in the world would they conclude that would be popular?"

Imagine McConnell is correct: Republicans will gain a massive advantage if Democrats pass health care reform. Why would McConnell signal this now, before Democrats have passed it, while they still have time to heed his warning and save themselves? Since we can assume that McConnell badly wants to become Senate Majority Leader, it seems awfully inconsistent with his self-interest for him to hand out such valuable strategic advice to the opposing party.

Am I cynical for suspecting that maybe McConnell is not offering this advice to Democrats in good faith? Perhaps McConnell believes, as I do, that the Democrats have already suffered most or all of the damage they're going to suffer from trying to pass health care reform, and that failure will cause even sympathetic voters to conclude that Democrats don't deserve to keep their majority. Passing the bill might staunch the depression of the Democratic base and allow for a different narrative. Forcing Republicans to defend repealing the package, which has many popular provisions, could put them in a tricky position. (Perhaps this is why McConnell won't commit to pushing for repeal if the bill passes.)

Some of the Republican discomfort that a successful bill will create can be seen in Mark Steyn's column in National Review, complaining in advance that Republicans won't repeal Obamacare:

A bigtime GOP consultant was on TV crowing that Republicans wanted the Dems to pass Obamacare because it’s so unpopular it will guarantee a GOP sweep in November. Okay, then what? You’ll roll it back like you’ve rolled back all those other unsustainable entitlements premised on cobwebbed actuarial tables from 80 years ago?

I love the idea that Social Security was "unsustainable" 80 years ago, but it's still around. Apparently we disagree on the meaning of the word "unsustainable."

But my main point is that, as Steyn recognizes, repealing Obamacare is going to be very difficult. Not only will it be hard to win enough sets to do so, but public opinion tends to have a strong status quo bias. It's easy for the opposition to focus on Medicare cuts or new taxes when the bill is being considered. But when it's law, proponents of repeal will have to explain why they favor yanking coverage away from 30 million Americans, letting insurance companies rescind coverage, and other unpleasant things.

Is McConnell thinking about this possibility? I have no idea. At the very least, I think Democrats would be wise not to take his political advice at face value.

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