House Republicans Just Quietly Extended Obamacare, And Here's Why

Republicans in the House of Representatives have quietly passed a bill expanding coverage options in Obamacare, which runs just a bit contrary to the GOP's repeated, vehement public calls for "full repeal" of the healthcare reform. The tweak was passed subtly, buried inside a separate bill to prevent payment cuts to doctors who accept Medicare, and was signed into law by President Obama.

The move may reflect an acknowledgment by GOP leadership that the political landscape on Obamacare, following April's news that over 7 million American have received insurance through the law, is slowly but surely changing.

The change is a small one, not remarkable for any measure of political courage it forced the House GOP to show. It's not even clear how many members were aware what they voted for, as the bill was passed on an unorthodox, debate-free voice vote. It eliminates caps on high-cost deductibles for small group plans, which had been set at $2000 for individuals, and $4000 for families. The Republican rationale: This would allow employees also using health savings accounts — a longtime conservative hobby-horse in healthcare policy — to seek out higher-deductible, lower-cost plans.

The lay of the land these days for Republicans opposed to Obamacare and supporting full repeal is, in simplest terms, a bad one. It's been a certainty, since both the 2012 Presidential defeat of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, and the law's victory before the Supreme Court, that no such repeal is conceivable until at least 2017, assuming the election of a Republican president.

As such, it's possible that a Republican Party passing fixes and adjustments to the very law they're by and large sworn to destroy could become a more common sight in the near future, since in practical political terms that's the only way to actually have any impact. That's the price of two lost presidential elections, a yearlong lost legislative battle, and a lost Supreme Court challenge, it seems — at long last, there's a pressure on Republicans to at least engage with the law, however minimally.

The procedural subterfuge used to slide the changes through, however, serves a dual purpose — both keeping things smooth with vehemently anti-Obamacare representatives, and keeping the national party poised to run hard against Obamacare in the midterm elections. This has been the apparent strategy for months now, and despite a positive week of news for the law, the GOP still seems to regard it as their best hope for a successful midterm surge.

As you'd expect, the battle to spin this news is well underway. Said a spokesman for House Minority Leader Eric Cantor:

This is another in a series of changes to Obamacare that the House has supported to help save Americans from being harmed by the law, and we're glad to see the President signed it into law.

In other words, we only did it for you! In light of the GOP's longtime, intractable opposition to changing the law — the House has voted a staggering 52 times to repeal Obamacare, as recently as last week — this has the familiar ring of someone wanting it both ways. Whether it works has only one measure, though, and it's coming to a polling place this November.