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A Left Turn for the Obamacare Debate?

I’ve written numerous times about the dilemma Republicans face on Obamacare. Short version: they can kill the law’s funding with a majority vote in the Senate (through the “reconciliation” process), but they need 60 votes to break a filibuster if they want to fully repeal and replace the law. This means at least eight Democrats will need to join them.

Previous approaches to this conundrum involved various types of coercion. Maybe Republicans would set the funding to expire in a couple of years, forcing Democrats to choose between voting for a conservative replacement and destroying the health-care market. Maybe they’d attach replacement provisions to funding for children’s health insurance.

The new one tries honey instead of vinegar: several Republicans have suggested kicking the issue down to the states, which could choose to keep Obamacare as it is, use the law’s funding to experiment with free-market alternatives, or opt out of federal assistance entirely.

The appeal is obvious. Republicans will like the federalism aspect, and the states they represent will tend to opt out of the old law, so GOP lawmakers can call this a “repeal” to their constituents. Democrats will see this as the best they can get—and they, too, will feel secure in the knowledge that their own states will do what’s best.

The challenges are obvious as well. Some Republicans will not see this as a strong enough repeal victory. And both sides will worry about what the other side’s states will do: Republicans will be frustrated that Obamacare still exists in blue states, and Democrats will fret that red states’ efforts are hurting the poor.

The big question: do the supporters add up to 60 votes in the Senate?

Robert VerBruggen is managing editor of The American Conservative.

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