This puts Republicans in a difficult spot. Their mantra, repeated over and over and over, is that the law must be “entirely repealed and replaced.” “One thing that all Republicans agreed on back in 2009 is that we thought Obamacare was a terrible mistake,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., reminded the public on Oct. 20. “We still think that, and we’re going to do everything we can in the future to try to repeal it.” At a Tuesday press conference, House Speaker John Boehner agreed: “We want to repeal Obamacare and replace it with patient-centered healthcare.” When a reporter asked whether “Republicans would like to join in with some Democrats to change the law,” Boehner scoffed, “There is no way to fix this monstrosity.”
The polls don’t support that view. There’s a big gap between the public’s dissatisfaction and the GOP’s full-throated antagonism. Obama is filling that gap. He’s incorporating the dissatisfaction into his message of fixing, changing and improving the law. That’s why he went to Boston this week to tout the Massachusetts law on which the Affordable Care Act was modeled. Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick, D, recalled the early flaws in the Massachusetts program and how they were ironed out. Obama also told the story of President George W. Bush’s prescription drug program: “Once it was the law, everybody pitched in to try to make it work.” He conceded Obamacare’s troubles and promised, “We are going to keep working to improve the law.”
Obamacare’s problems could worsen. The public could turn against it. It could be repealed. But if its basic concept is as sound as the Massachusetts program — if it’s addressing a widespread problem and can be cleaned up with technical repairs and policy revisions — then the public will stick with it. And the GOP, eventually, will become the party of reform, not repeal.