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Can GOP avoid Obamacare trap?

Published: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, Dec. 28, 2013 8:45 a.m. CST

2014 will be the year Republicans are forced to deal with the Obamacare Trap, helpfully set for them by the Democratic authors of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2009 and 2010, President Obama and his party took a health care system in which 85 percent had insurance coverage, and blew it up. Now, with Obamacare causing misery right and left, those same Democrats are screaming, “You can’t go back!”

The national health care scheme they designed is so complex and has already embedded itself so deeply in the health care system, they argue, that it can never be repealed. The only course now is for lawmakers of both parties to “fix” Obamacare’s problems.

Already, some Republicans appear to be wavering on the insistence that repeal must be the first step in minimizing the damage done by Obamacare. In a weird irony, the more serious the problems of Obamacare become, the less likely some Republicans are to demand repeal.

“It’s so bad that you just can’t let it happen,” says one well-connected GOP strategist. “My sense is, at least at this point, it’s gotten so bad that as much as you don’t want to fix Obamacare, you just can’t let the impact of this happen.”

Of course, many ways Republicans would want to provide Obamacare relief – Michigan Rep. Fred Upton’s keep-your-health-plan proposal, for example – won’t win Democratic support. But the more fixes the GOP signs on to, the more incentive Democrats have to keep stonewalling all calls for repeal.

Other House Republicans are (finally) uniting behind an actual repeal-and-replace proposal. H.R. 3121 is the work of the Republican Study Committee, and, like another effort by GOP Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, would repeal Obamacare.

So far, 117 House Republicans have signed onto the bill. But 115, including the House GOP leadership, have not. And it is not clear whether passing an Obamacare alternative – one that begins with repeal – is really a priority for Speaker John Boehner and other top House Republicans.

Obamacare threatens to turn into an enormous, rolling disaster. While Americans suffer, Republicans could find themselves arguing with each other, hung up on details, divided over the next step and under pressure to endorse Democratic fixes to a law they never supported – in other words, deep inside the Obamacare Trap.

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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