North Carolina's hapless Republican Senate primary frontrunner, Speaker Thom Tillis, is the perfect example of the bind Republican candidates find themselves in when trying to deal with repealing the Affordable Care Act.
February 21, 2014

Yesterday, Greg Sargent at the Washington Post used North Carolina's hapless Republican Senate primary frontrunner, immensely unpopular Speaker Thom Tillis, to demonstrate the conundrum Republican candidates find themselves in when trying to deal with repealing the Affordable Care Act-- at least when they talk with non-Foxified normal voters.

Tillis is asked whether he supports a proposal championed by Senator Richard Burr-- also from his state-- to replace Obamacare with an alternative that would supposedly reduce government spending and regulations while keeping the good parts of the ACA, i.e, consumer protections and expanded coverage.

Tillis responds by saying that of course he would replace Obamcare with something. But he makes two key concessions. While reiterating he supports repeal, he implicitly admits Obamacare’s core goals are worthy. And he adds: “Republicans need to communicate that we agree that there are serious health care issues among the American people that we need to solve."

This is the GOP repeal dilemma. Tillis effectively concedes repeal alone is unsustainable. But he can’t bring himself to support the leading GOP alternative, referring to it as an “outline” worth considering. Indeed, when asked about this by Politifact, a Tillis spokesman would only say the Burr plan is a “positive step,” leading Politifact to conclude it is “mostly true” Tillis would go back to letting insurance companies discriminate against preexisting conditions.

One reason Tillis can’t fully embrace the Burr alternative may be that some conservatives are criticizing it. A FreedomWorks official says it isn’t real free market reform. Tillis’ Tea Party primary opponent, Greg Brannon, says the Burr plan is still “nationalized health care.” The Burr plan tries to give us the good parts of Obamacare, but in order to minimize the price, ends up doing so to a far lesser degree. Yet it’s still a nonstarter for Tea Partyers, because it represents even some-- albeit far less-- spending and regulation. That, combined with the fact that Republicans have endlessly attacked Obamacare’s disruptions, even though alternatives would also cause disruptions, will continue to constrain GOP candidates from embracing any alternatives.

The upshot: GOP candidates who understand that repeal alone is unsustainable-- as Tillis clearly does-- will not have an easy time escaping the implications of their own position. This gives Dems like Hagan a way to call for fixes to the law-- achieving some distance from its problems-- while blasting the opposition for wanting to go back to the old system, which is unpopular. It reframes the argument as flawed problem solving versus ideological hostility to government improving people’s lives.

Now, what about Democrats who are not satisfied that the Affordable Care Act is good enough? And there are a lot of Democrats, both incumbents and candidates, who are in that camp. Yesterday we took a quick look at how populist Democrat Rick Weiland is dealing with Obamacare in South Dakota. His message is clear and simple and uncomplicated-- and it isn't about insurance industry executives who bought off the legislators who screwed up the Affordable Care Act, especially Max Baucus ($1,611,296), Ben Nelson ($1,650,398), Paul Ryan ($1,056,353) and Joe Crowley ($1,028,515). Watch the video up top of Rick speaking to South Dakota voters about what's wrong with Obamacare and how he plans to fix it.

According to Weiland, "The flaw in both Obamacare and the old system it replaces is the same, neither of them offers people the Medicare option that would keep the big insurance companies honest and their prices down. The Medicare Choice Act," which he says he will introduce when he is elected, "by simply allowing people to choose what they want, will make our entire health care delivery system cheaper, more responsive to the needs of patients and health care providers, and less responsive to the demands of either big money insurance giants or big government bureaucrats… Competition is the key. The Medicare Choice Act will limit big insurance price gouging and big bureaucracy bossiness in exactly the same way, by challenging each to offer its product to the public and letting the public decide." His bill will give "every American a choice between buying into Medicare, keeping his or her private insurance, or a combination of both." That's a lot easier to understand-- and stand behind-- than whatever Thom Tillis and other hapless GOP candidates are mumbling.

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