Sunday, January 15, 2017

Policy, elections, coalition-building and Obamacare replacements

Continuing with the theme of the last couple of posts, there are more than just policy tradeoffs.  Pass a bill that people don't like, and you can lose your seat in Congress.

In 2010, Democrats lost seats in Congress.  And Obamacare was partially to blame.  Want the serious, academic cite?  You can get an ungated copy of the peer-reviewed paper here by Brendan Nyhan, Eric McGhee, John Sides, Seth Masket and Steven Greene.  Yup, 2010 was a Democratic bloodbath, for many reasons, but Obamacare contributed.  And they knew it would when they voted for it.  They decided it was worth it.  They had been trying to pass healthcare reform for decades.  They might not get another chance, so they took it, knowing the costs.  And they paid the costs.

Why?  Short answer: any time you disrupt a system, somebody wins and somebody loses.  The benefits were scheduled to kick in after a delay, true, but as a general rule, the losers get more pissed.  Some people paid higher taxes, higher premiums, etc.  Combine that with philosophical opposition to more redistribution, and you had a recipe for the predictable bloodbath that the Democrats suffered in 2010.

So it goes.

And now, the Republicans have to decide whether or not to disrupt the healthcare system.  Whatever they do, with any replacement, someone will win, and someone will lose.  Even if the replacement is no replacement because they revert to the pre-Obamacare system, there are winners and losers.  The people who lose will be more mobilized because that will always be the case.  And Republicans will pay the electoral price in 2018.

And that is another tradeoff!  Building a replacement coalition, for any replacement, requires finding a coalition willing to pay those prices.  Are congressional Republicans willing to pay the electoral price of repealing Obamacare?

How high will the price be?  We don't know.  It depends on a lot of factors, including but not limited to what they do, but they will pay a price, strange as it may seem given that Democrats paid a price to pass Obamacare in the first place.

So, here's the question:  do congressional Republicans care enough to pay the price?  I know what you're thinking.  GERRYMANDERING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bullshit.  First, even in the House, the presidential candidates are separated by less than 10 points in the two-party vote in around 25% of the districts, more or less, long-term-average.  I haven't gotten the 2016 numbers yet, but gerrymandering is an overstated boogeyman obsessed-over by know-nothing goo-goos.  Second, remember the Senate!  Third, remember 2010!

So, are Republicans willing to pay the price?  Many are.  A lot are hard-core anti-redistributionists.  They may not get another shot, so like the Democrats in 2010, they'd take it.  Then, there are the ones who don't hate Obamacare as much as they pretend.  Remember the origins of Obamacare.  It was cooked up by the Heritage Foundation as the Republican response to HillaryCare in the '90s, and then implemented in Massachusetts by Mitt Somethingorother.  It isn't a stretch to think that a moderate, Northeastern Republican like Susan Collins, in her heart-of-hearts, kind of thinks it's OK and doesn't really want to throw away her career to destroy it.  Then, there are the cowards who just care about being reelected.  The ones who don't want to be reverse-2010'ed.

Now, I know what you're thinking!  PRIMARIES!!!  That's the catch.  Or, potential catch.  Republican primaries have always been an overstated threat.  Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina got primaried for being insufficiently conservative in 2010, as did Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana in 2012.  Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia was a more complicated story in 2014, having completely ignored his district, and having a campaign against him focused entirely on immigration, but that one shocked everyone.  Still, let's throw it in.  That's really about it for straight-forward stories of getting primaried for not being conservative enough.  Everyone else has a major catch.  No, Bob Bennett from Utah doesn't count.  He didn't get primaried.  His party yanked his name from the primary ballot in a procedure that can only happen in Utah.  There are others who have lost primaries, and I can knock all their stories down.  Really, there are three that I can't knock down.

Of course, this is about threats and perceptions of threats.  So, who knows how congressional Republicans perceive the electoral threats here?

The problem for coalition-building is this:  how do you construct a replacement bill that manages not only everyone's policy beliefs, which aren't exactly the same, but variation in willingness to run electoral risks?

The thing is, there is an easy way out of the conundrum:  don't do a single bill repeal/single bill replace.  Just do piece-meal measures, dragged out over a long time.

That's why I still think there is a good chance Obamacare survives.  It solves strategic problems.  Those worried about primaries get to cast lots of "repeal" votes.  Those worried about general elections don't have to vote to repeal any actual benefits.

Of course, that leaves lots of internal dynamics in Congress for leaders to manage because what it doesn't do is give the hardliners a real repeal, and that's still hard to manage.  I guess I'll be writing about this for a while, huh?

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