The problems facing the Affordable Care Act's website have given the law's critics no shortage of ammunition to take potshots at President Obama's signature legislative accomplishment. But to hear those critics tell it, the ACA's problems are a growing catastrophe in which Democrats are poised to jump ship – and the law is just a second away from repeal. Repeal of the ACA is and always has been a fantasy. And right now this fantasy is being enabled by members of the mainstream press for whom the ACA's problems somehow merit embellishment. Apparently, they have nothing else over which to cry that the sky is falling – and they have to be able to scream about something that is devastatingly world changing to justify their existence.
Tea Party congressmen and conservative pundits have been keeping the repeal fantasy alive ever since the law was signed back in 2010. The backlash from the government shutdown, which was inspired by Tea Party efforts to gut the ACA, did nothing to dull enthusiasm for the "repeal Obamacare" crowd. "Obamacare will be repealed well in advance of the 2014 elections," conservative writer Steven Hayward wrote in Forbes on November 11. "There is a chance Obamacare could be repealed in a bipartisan vote," wrote Ed Rogers in the Washington Post. Peggy Noonan wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Congress "could try to vote now, under new conditions and with the American people behind them, to repeal the whole thing… And who knows, they just might."
No… they will not.
This is nothing but empty wishing. Even if Republicans in the Senate did somehow manage to pass a bill ‘over Harry Reid's dead body’ repealing the ACA, it would absolutely be vetoed by President Obama. Congress does not have the two-thirds votes in both houses to override the President’s veto.
But this is what pundits and activists do: shape and spin stories to conform to their preferred outcome. The National Journal's Josh Kraushaar, rather than tamping down this irrational enthusiasm among the law's opponents, is giving it a big push. "There's a growing likelihood that over time enough Democrats may join Republicans to decide to start over and scrap the whole complex health care enterprise," Kraushaar writes in his November 18 column. He argued to the point of being meaningless – he is saying there is an increased chance of something possibly happening over an indeterminate time period if everything lines up perfectly – but Kraushaar nonetheless wants us to think that the threat of repeal is real:
"Consider [this],” wrote Kraushaar, “Despite the White House's protestations, 62.4 percent of the House voted for Michigan GOP Rep. Fred Upton's legislation (261-157) was just shy of the two-thirds necessary to override a veto."
Kraushaar is comparing apples to oranges. Upton's bill was not about full repeal of the law. Upton's bill, which would permit health insurers to continue selling plans that don't meet the ACA's minimum standards, reflected Democratic frustration with the website. The vote itself was essentially symbolic. The bill will not be taken up by the Senate – Harry Reid will never bring it to the floor – and it would never survive an Obama veto. Those Democrats went into the vote knowing that it would not have any impact on policy. They did it for cover back home. So you cannot extrapolate from that symbolic expression of frustration a desire to scrap the whole law.
Kraushaar arrived at the notion that repeal is visible on the horizon by sketching out immense political shifts and alignments of the planets and stars that must occur in order to arrive at veto-proof majorities. In doing so, Kraushaar unwittingly demonstrated exactly how the repeal fantasy will never come true.
Republicans are all wishing and dreaming. “If wishes had wings…” my grandmother used to say.