Mitch McConnell Afraid to Vote to Repeal Obamacare

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WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 9:  Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) and U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) give a press conference after meeting with fellow Republican Senators on Capitol Hill, July 9, 2013 in Washington, DC. The senators fielded questions about student loan legislation. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Photo: Drew Angerer/2013 Getty Images

Mitch McConnell appeared on Fox News today and was asked if Republicans — should they gain the Senate majority — would vote to repeal Obamacare. McConnell’s answer was revealingly evasive. First McConnell conceded that the Senate wouldn’t bother passing repeal because “Obviously, he’s not going to sign a full repeal.” But then McConnell proceeded to explain what measures Republicans would put up for votes instead:

“There are pieces of it that are extremely unpopular with the American public that the Senate ought to have a chance to vote on: repealing the medical device tax, trying to restore the 40-hour work week, voting on whether or not we should continue the individual mandate, which people hate, detest and despise,” McConnell said. “I think Obamacare is the single worst piece of legislation pass in the last 50 years.

I’d like to put the Senate Democrats in the position of voting on the most unpopular parts of this law and see if we can put it on the president’s desk and make him take real ownership of this highly destructive Obamacare.”

It is true that Obama would never sign a full repeal of Obamacare. He would never sign a repeal of the individual mandate, either. It’s unlikely he would sign a repeal of the medical device tax, unless perhaps Republicans traded him something for it. (The era of hostage negotiation seems to be over.)

So why would McConnell hold votes on those measures that won’t be signed, instead of full repeal, which also won’t be signed? Because, as he says, those measures are “extremely unpopular.” (Or at least the individual mandate is. The medical device tax is unpopular with the medical device industry.)

But isn’t Obamacare as a whole also “extremely unpopular”? Why won’t Republicans force Obama and Senate Democrats to defend the law as a whole?

The answer is that McConnell realizes that repealing Obamacare is unpopular. He can place his party on the winning side by posturing against a couple of select pieces of the law. But posturing against the entire law by calling for its repeal is a losing issue. It forces them either to advocate taking health insurance away from millions of people, or else to have a plan of their own, which would bring the magic Republican alternative out of the abstract future realm in which it has always belonged into the ugly, inescapable world of unpopular tradeoffs. McConnell doesn’t want to hold a vote to repeal the law because repealing Obamacare is unpopular.