Republicans are at pains these days to present themselves as the party of fiscal austerity. They’re also at pains to advertise themselves as the party that will repeal (or repeal and replace) the Democrats’ new health care law.
The problem for them is that those two platforms are basically mutually exclusive. If Republicans attempt to repeal the health care bill, they’ll run headlong into the Congressional Budget Office, which found that the health care bill reduces deficits by over $100 billion over its first 10 years. Repeal that, and Republicans will have to raise taxes or cut spending to keep from driving up the deficit they decry. Or they could simply ignore Congressional scorekeepers — which is what top Republicans seem intent on doing.
“We all know that it’s going to increase the deficit,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at his weekly press availability, in response to a question from TPMDC.
“If Republicans are rewarded with control of the House of Representatives, we will use every means at our disposal to take that case to the American people, and repeal Obamacare lock stock and barrel,” said House Republican Conference Chair Mike Pence yesterday, when asked how the GOP would square its repeal push with its calls for deficit reductions. “We’ll also use whatever means are available to delay implementation of Obamacare. “
“I don’t believe [CBO],” said Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), who is serving out his last months in office. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true. You know the scoring process. You know how arbitrary it is. You get into the dynamic marketplace and you always find the CBO score is always wrong.”
“There’s nobody thinking this bill reduces the deficit, is there?” asked Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) rhetorically.
Actually, there is. CBO itself says that the final health care law, as enacted and which is taking shape today, will decrease the deficit by $138 billion, as compared to what would have happened if Congress had done nothing. Now that it’s the law of the land, CBO would find that a straight repeal would increase the deficit by about the same $138 billion. Replacing it with the GOP’s alternative health care bill wouldn’t come close to making up the difference.
Some Republicans do say that they could change the health care law in a way that creates further savings — but they’d have to do that without impacting the parts of the health care bill that truly reduce the deficits.
“Republicans would certainly want to change that bill, drastically,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) told TPMDC this afternoon. “I would hope that Republicans would want to find some way of covering the cost. But I don’t think that’s necessarily — if we can show how we can save a lot of money, that would be a very good step in the right direction.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.