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Will congressional Republicans save Obamacare? One conservative thinks so

If the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare, will Republicans repair the damage? Ramesh Ponnuru, one of the right's smartest health-care voices, thinks so. "I'd bet that Obamacare is going to survive this challenge — whatever the court decides — pretty much unscathed," he writes.

The question here comes down to Congress: If they want to fix Obamacare, they can do it easily. If they want to do nothing, well, it's Congress — they can do that too.

Ponnuru sorts congressional Republicans into three groups. The core of his analysis is the way the different groups can and can't compromise with each other.

Group 1 are the Repealers: They're "unwilling under any circumstances to support giving subsidies to people who have gotten coverage through Obamacare exchanges."

Group 2 are the Reformers: "They think Republicans should be on record favoring subsidies to protect people who relied on Obamacare, but they want to put conditions on those subsidies."

Group 3 are the Repairers: "They fear sending Obama anything he'd veto because they think he'd win the political fight over which party deserved blame for an impasse. In practice, then, they just want to extend the subsidies."

The Repealers, Ponnuru writes, simply don't have a majority. The Reformers don't either — the Repealers will vote against them, and so will all Democrats. That leaves the Repairers, who will put forward a plan that extends the subsidies while making cosmetic changes, at best, to Obamacare. The Repairers can attract both Democratic votes and Reformer votes. So they're the only ones who can give Republicans an actual solution.

Ponnuru's argument is convincing, but it rests on one critical assumption: that Republicans will feel they need to pass something.

And they might! As Ponnuru writes, that's how they felt during the fiscal cliff debate in 2012 and the government shutdown in 2013.

But there's another possibility, too: that Republicans won't feel the need to pass something, and will be content to unite around a bill that Obama rejects, or around no bill at all. That might be true even if the aftermath is a political disaster for Republicans.

After the 2012 election, for instance, immigration reform was seen as must-pass legislation for Republicans, but it died in the House. Most congressional Republicans still think their party would be better off if it passed immigration reform, but they're more afraid of losing primary elections than losing the general election, and that dynamic might prove even more intense around an Obamacare fix. The fact that we're entering primary season won't help matters.

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