Addressing the employees of a Kentucky hospital on Monday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sounded rather dour about the prospects of repealing ObamaCare. ???If you thought it was a good idea for the federal government to go in this direction, I’d say the odds are still on your side,??? said McConnell, ???because it’s a lot harder to undo something than it is to stop it in the first place.???
McConnell said he remains opposed to ObamaCare, and felt the clear Supreme Court judgment that the individual mandate is a tax would make its repeal ???appropriate for the Senate to consider with 51 votes.???
However, his comments about the difficulty of repeal led to some dismay, particularly when contrasted with the energetic determination of Kentucky???s other senator, Rand Paul, who was simultaneously declaring that the Supreme Court???s decision ???emboldens the conservative base,??? ???emboldens the Tea Party,??? and provides a ???rallying cry??? for conservatives.
Paul was sounding the trumpets, while McConnell was playing saxophone. McConnell was less inspiring, but he???s right: repealing an entitlement, no matter how unpopular with the public at large, is extremely difficult. In fact, if that happens to ObamaCare, it will make history.
Everyone who allowed Barack Obama to reach the White House should have thought harder about that. The willingness of so many people to indulge nearly irreversible lurches into bigger government, as though such mistakes could be readily corrected with another election, has always been puzzling. The entire philosophy of ???progressivisim??? is founded on the notion that we only get one chance to vote against expansions of the State, after which ???regression??? becomes unthinkable.
Entitlements are all about generating concentrated, politically useful benefits, while dispersing the costs across a large and relatively quiescent population. The recipients of the benefits are generally more enthusiastic about retaining them than taxpayers are about taking them away. ObamaCare???s unpopularity was tested in 2010, and a Republican landslide resulted. It will be tested again in 2012??? but that is probably the last test it will need to survive. After that, it will become one more endlessly metastasizing tumor of Big Government, inoperable until it becomes terminal.
Considerable Republican unity will be necessary to complete the repeal process, even if they do extremely well in the 2012 elections??? and since it will be McConnell???s job to organize that unity, it???s understandably discouraging to hear him lowering expectations, even if his grim observations are reasonable. This is not the time to ???go wobbly,??? as Margaret Thatcher famously said to the elder George Bush, and 2013 won???t be a good time, either.
McConnell and the Republican leadership should understand this, with crystal clarity: if they win the Senate and Oval Office in 2012, but they do not repeal ObamaCare, they???re doomed as a national party.
Too many people will conclude there is simply no reason to waste their energies on a Party that fails such an existential challenge, and the tough, probably decades-long work of constructing a viable replacement party ??? only grudgingly delayed after 2008 ??? will begin. The conservative coalition is energized and unified now, in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that painfully illuminated how far our entire government has drifted from Constitutional principles. Some of the people drawn into that coalition have been wondering if the GOP is serious about returning to those principles. They would take the failure of a Republican majority to repeal ObamaCare as a definitive answer.
The process of replacing the Republican Party will not be swift, or pleasant for anyone involved ??? including the American public, which is not well-served by the absence of a robust opposition. Happy outcomes are hardly guaranteed. But arguments to stick with the Republicans until they locate their spines, just in time to do battle with the next gigantic encroachment upon American liberty, will fall upon deaf ears.
It will be one thing if the GOP goes down swinging at the polls in 2012, but quite another if their voters conclude they threw the subsequent fight in Congress. This is a party that passionately believes in the power of competition, after all. Republican voters are likely to conclude that a weak GOP needs some stiff competition from the right. Or, as Mitt Romney memorably said, while highlighting one of the awful deficiencies of ObamaCare: ???I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn???t give me the good service I need, I want to say: I???m going to get someone else to provide this service to me.???
ObamaCare repeal will be one of those moments upon which political history turns. Regrettably, that means wrong turns are all too possible.
Update: Senator McConnell gave an interview to Breitbart News in which he affirmed his dedication to ObamaCare repeal: ???I have said many times that if I’m the leader of the majority next year, I commit to the American people that the repeal of ???Obamacare??? will be job one. That includes pursuing reconciliation. What people need to understand is that this is literally a fight for the future of our country and Democrats have proven during this debate that they will stop at nothing to protect this massive expansion of government into our lives and our health care. We need to be aware that this will take every ounce of our energy to accomplish.???
McConnell added, “The road to repeal begins with a Republican Senate and Mitt Romney in the White House, but it won???t end for me until this historic mistake is wiped off the books for good.”