POLITICS: PennAve

Republicans urge colleagues to offer health care alternatives to Obamacare

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Even as Republicans dissect what could be a political treasure trove of problems with the Obamacare rollout, key party leaders on health care policy are urging that attacks on the law be coupled with discussions of GOP alternatives.

Congressional Republicans on Tuesday expanded their criticism of the Affordable Care Act from the problematic website to the hundreds of thousands of Americans receiving cancellation notices as insurance companies adjust policies to conform to Obamacare regulations. Calls for Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' resignation accelerated, with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., joining the chorus, and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said he would subpoena information from a government contractor.

But in the midst of this Republican oversight offensive, GOP lawmakers intimately involved in the party’s health care strategy since the debate over Obamacare began in 2009 say it is important for the party to communicate to voters how the GOP would fix the problems created by the Affordable Care Act, what legislation they would implement should they ever repeal the law and how those policies would improve the health care industry.

“I think we need to show the American people that we have realistic ways to change our health care delivery system that will reduce costs when they buy insurance,” Alexander told the Washington Examiner.

Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, was the GOP’s chief Senate messaging strategist in 2009 and 2010. He also was chosen to argue against what became the Affordable Care Act in the 2010 televised White House roundtable debate between congressional Republicans and Democrats.

During that period, Alexander always counseled Republicans to link attacks on President Obama’s health care agenda to GOP alternatives. The senator argued then that debating health care in this manner was more politically effective than simply criticizing Democratic legislation. Private GOP polling has supported that assertion. Alexander said that dynamic remains true today as Republicans shift from condemning the law in theory to investigating the consequences of implementation.

“We should be able to say to the American people — their question to us would be: ‘Okay, what are you going to do if we put you in charge?’ And we ought to be able to answer that question,” Alexander said.

In the wake of a 16-day government shutdown that voters largely blamed on Republicans, the GOP moved to revive its political fortunes by focusing on Obamacare’s precarious unveiling. The law has provided no shortage of problems to investigate.

To distance the party from voters’ overwhelmingly negative reaction to the GOP-led strategy of shuttering the government to delay or defund Obamacare, House and Senate Republicans say they are focusing on legislative oversight, tailoring their criticism of the law to the facts on the ground while highlighting their proposals for alternative health care policies. Obama and congressional Democrats counter that Republicans have no ideas of their own to reform the health care system.

Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., disputed the Democrats’ charge.

But the congressman, who is also a physician, acknowledged that it was an easy accusation to throw around because House Republicans have been speaking with several voices, as opposed to coalescing around a unified health care agenda. That’s why Roe joined with fellow Republicans to develop a conservative alternative to Obamacare. Roe said the legislation had nearly 100 co-sponsors and he believes it can strengthen GOP criticism of Obamacare.

“We did this for a variety of reasons. One is, I got tired of hearing that you have no ideas. We’ve had a lot of ideas — we just hadn’t got them out there, and that narrative is still out there,” Roe said. “I think it’s very important to talk about an alternative.”

A Republican strategist with clients in Washington and other elected positions around the country said it could be vitally important for GOP presidential candidates running in 2016 to offer alternative health care policies, particularly because this consultant believes Obamacare will create myriad problems that voters will demand his successor address.

Republicans, this operative said, must build their opposition on actual problems with the Affordable Care Act’s rollout and refrain from framing their opposition as an “ideological crusade.”

“The facts are bad on Obamacare and they won't get better," this Republican strategist said. "We just need to ask the country to reverse it based on the bad outcomes it is actually producing instead of arguing about the ideology behind it.”

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