Republicans bash Obamacare but can't repeal it. What do they want?

The Republican strategy is to talk about Obamacare all the time. If the rollout continues to stumble, Republicans could pick up some Democratic support. But the big prize is 2014.

Scott Applewhite/AP
Congressional Republicans are planning for a lot more of this – House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R) of California holding a hearing about the HealthCare.gov website in Washington earlier this month.

The Republican playbook against Obamacare calls for Republicans to take every conceivable opportunity to talk about cancelled policies, higher costs, and other problems with the law – and to barrel ahead with coordinated oversight hearings.

But why? Republicans cannot repeal the Affordable Care Act, because they do not control the Senate, much less have the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a presidential veto. Moreover, even if the current troubles lead young, healthy individuals to opt out this year, throwing the system's finances out of whack, the law has built-in safeguards to protect against just such a scenario.

So what is the Republicans' endgame?

Put simply, the 2014 midterm elections, and if, in the meantime, Obamacare's woes push some Democrats to abandon their support for the law, so much the better.

Republicans “want to preserve the power they have and gain more” by taking the Senate next year, says John Pitney Jr., a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California.

In a sign of things to come, anti-Obamacare campaign money is already pouring in for the 2014 elections, according to The Cook Political Report.

“The law is triggering hundreds of millions, soon to be billions of dollars in both political and product TV advertising” from both sides on Obamacare, writes Elizabeth Wilner, of The Cook Political Report.

Politico reports that the Koch-brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity is bankrolling $4 million worth of TV ads targeting House and Senate Democrats on the health law.

The intent is clearly to dial up pressure on Democrats, and many choke points for the law lie ahead, such as the Nov. 30 deadline to have HealthCare.gov operational for a "vast majority" of users, the Christmas week registration deadline for users who want to have coverage beginning Jan. 1, and the March 31 deadline to enroll or face a penalty.

If the bad news keeps mounting on Obamacare, Republicans could be in a position to harvest Democratic support for legislative action. Michael Steel, press secretary for House Speaker John Boehner, says he “absolutely” expects more Democrats to peel off from the president.

What used to be solid Democratic support for the law in Congress is showing cracks. Earlier this month, 39 Democrats split from their caucus to vote for a GOP bill that allows Americans to keep and sign up for insurance plans deemed “substandard” by the new law. In the Senate, Democrat Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is working on her own legislation.

Some Democrats could even move to delay the individual mandate – a possibility recently raised by Sen. Al Franken (D) of Minnesota. Suspending the individual mandate is one move that tea partyers, who have no interest in fixing Obamacare, could back, says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas, a favorite with the tea party.

So far, President Obama has not even hinted at such a possibility. The administration has already put off for a year the employer mandate, a key provision that requires employers with more than 50 workers to offer health insurance or pay a penalty. To delay the individual mandate for a significant amount of time would signal the law’s unworkability.  

Still, even the president may not be able to hold back his party. On the Hill, protecting your seat usually trumps protecting the president.

And Republicans don't plan to let up one bit.

Says Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky: “Just because the president disagrees with our approach to something that is wildly unpopular and bad for America, doesn’t mean that a co-equal branch of government should throw its hands up and walk away.”

Editor's note: The original version of this article misidentified the sourcing on the financing of anti-Obamacare advertising.

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