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January 16, 2014 11:59 AM The Nefarious Conservative Conspiracy to Save Obamacare

By Ed Kilgore

Like me, you were probably under the impression that bashing Obamacare was a party-wide Republican obsession and pretty much the GOP’s central talking point for 2014. That made sense not so much because it’s a big general election crowd pleaser, but because it’s proved to be the most effective Republican Establishment prophylactic device for keeping the Tea Folk from wreaking havoc in Congress. You know: “Get out of the way and let Obamacare collapse of its own weight.”

But no, Erick Erickson knows better. Behind all the rhetoric, he perceives a GOP conspiracy to undercut conservative opposition to Obamacare:

Conservative and Republican affiliated groups have started the 2014 assault against Democrats who support Obamacare. At the very same time, it is increasingly clear Republicans are laying the groundwork to abandon their opposition to Obamacare.
The Business Roundtable, which has a great relationship with Republican Leaders, is now listing Obamacare as an entitlement worth preserving.
Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former economic advisor to John McCain and who opposed passage of Obamacare, has started a think tank premised on keeping, but fixing, Obamacare. Holtz-Eakin has the ear of Republican leaders. In 2009, Mitch McConnell appointed him to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission.
The Chamber of Commerce is declaring it will work to fix, not repeal, Obamacare. In fact, just last week the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said, “The administration is obviously committed to keeping the law in place, so the chamber has been working pragmatically to fix those parts of Obamacare that can be fixed.”
Concurrent to this, the Chamber of Commerce has begun funding candidates to beat conservatives in Republican primaries.

I guess Erickson has never heard of the concept of “arguing in the alternative,” by which prudent opponents of a proposition or program develop a fall-back position of accepting it but arguing for a different way of interpreting or implementing it.

It is true that Holtz-Eakin along with Avik Roy penned a column nearly a year ago arguing that Obamacare might actually be an effective platform for achieving larger conservative health policy goals such as the privatization of insurance and service delivery under Medicaid and Medicare. It’s pretty much the mirror image of the belief of many single-payer advocates that the Affordable Care Act (particularly if it had included a strong public option) might pave the way to their own health care nirvana.

Still, the “Plan B” approach to Obamacare is an exotic plant being tended in exotic hothouses of conservative think-tankery. What Erickson’s doing is to insinuate that any business group that in any way resists the intra-Republican power of Obamacare-obsessed groups or individuals is secretly plotting to embed the ACA permanently into the American governing landscape.

The Republican Main Street Partnership, headed by former Congressman LaTourette — who is a friend of Speaker John Boehner — is working with the Chamber and party leaders to target conservatives the party leadership finds troublesome. LaTourette has been parroting talking points from the National Republican Senatorial Committee about the Senate Conservatives Fund, Club for Growth, and others.
Ben Sasse, the conservative candidate in Nebraska on the most recent cover of National Review and who has the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund, RedState, and others, suddenly finds Mitch McConnell and the NRSC holding fundraisers for his opponent. Sasse, it should be noted, is widely considered a brainiac opponent of Obamacare and healthcare policy expert.

This “anybody in my way supports Obamacare” is reminiscent of the old southern segregationist tactic of accusing all political enemies on any subject of being secret race-mixers. (One corruption-tainted Georgia governor of the 1950s, Marvin Griffin, deployed what a political journalist called the “If You Ain’t For Stealing, You Ain’t For Segregation” argument). It’s the most lethal weapon Erickson can use. But it’s not terribly convincing at a time when Republicans of every hue from coast to coast are grinding away like cicadas at the anti-Obamacare message.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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