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Taking the GOP’s temperature

Where is the Republican Party after Obamacare and the Tea Party?

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan remains a Republican thought leader, despite an unpopular healthcare plan (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan remains a Republican thought leader, despite an unpopular healthcare plan (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)AP

Is the Republican Party finally recovering from the Obamacare derangement and Tea Party delirium that have so afflicted it in the last few years?

Let’s see . . . On the loopy side of the ledger, the House continues to go merrily about taking quixotic road-to-nowhere votes to repeal or eviscerate the Affordable Care Act. But on the sensible side of things, GOP lawmakers just worked quietly with Democrats on a needed adjustment to the law.

In ordinary times, that wouldn’t be big news. But in a conservative climate so kooky that a health care plan based on principles once blessed by the Heritage Foundation is now deemed a socialist takeover of the system, that small step is noteworthy.

Still, the GOP’s opposition to the ACA has become such a visceral thing that many Republicans are missing indications that the public mood is changing. With the federal website now working relatively well, some 7.1 million have signed up for coverage. The victory lap Obama took as a result was premature; those enrollment figures don’t ensure that the ACA will succeed. Still, they do make it considerably less likely that the landmark law will fail.

Unlike Republicans, the public increasingly wants it to succeed. In the latest Greenberg Quinlan Rosner poll for Democracy Corps, a liberal organization, the ACA is still ostensibly underwater, with 51 percent of likely voters opposed and 47 percent in favor. But seven percent of those opposed want a law that goes further, not one that does less. Moreover, 53 percent of voters said they wanted the law implemented and fixed rather than repealed and replaced. Several other recent national surveys have also found that the electorate wants the law repaired rather than repealed.


Now, the GOP is obviously too invested in repeal to ever adopt repair as its mantra. But these days, an ACA opponent has to be in favor of something more than simply deep-sixing Obamacare.

“If a Republican is in a TV interview or debate saying ‘let’s get rid of it,’ then [the question is], ‘what do you want to do?’ and ‘how would you approach it,’ ” says Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “They have to have those answers.”


Some are trying to provide them. For example, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has just unveiled a health care proposal of his own. Problem: His approach is to make Medicaid a block grant, offer tax incentives for individuals and a $100 billion fund to help the states, and then leave the matter to them. That’s hardly a persuasive alternative for those who believe this country needs near-universal health care.

But in contrast to Jindal, GOP Senators Orrin Hatch, Richard Burr, and Tom Coburn have authored a plan that actually aims at an ACA-level of coverage by using federal subsidies to help individuals buy insurance. Their proposal would keep some of the ACA’s popular protections. Problem: It doesn’t do as much to make good coverage affordable, and it falls short of the ACA in providing access to affordable coverage for those with pre-existing conditions. In sum, though it qualifies as an intellectually serious effort, it’s just not as good as the ACA.

Now to fiscal policy, where the GOP’s dueling impulses are also at play. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan has offered another plan that would reduce the top income tax rate to 25 percent and balance the budget over 10 years mainly by slashing social spending, including the subsidies offered under Obamacare, which he would repeal, and converting Medicaid into state-administered block grants.


One can see just how out-to-lunch Ryan’s scheme is by contrasting it with the tax-code overhaul that House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp has offered. Camp’s plan isn’t aimed at balancing the budget, but at simplifying the tax code and lowering rates without increasing the deficit. Still, the lowest top rate he could achieve was 35 percent — and even to get there would require ending or scaling back any number of tax credits or deductions.

His plan proved about as popular as a porcupine in a balloon factory. Ryan, meanwhile, remains a GOP thought leader.

All of which is to say, despite some encouraging signs, the GOP hasn’t yet recovered its way. It won’t until the pragmatists triumph over the ideologues when it comes to charting the party’s course.

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.