Sometime very soon, the Supreme Court will rule on the Affordable Care Act's constitutionality, possibly killing the law. What's more, even if a court majority sides with the administration, Republican policymakers may very well have a chance to eliminate "Obamacare" altogether early next year.
And that creates a conundrum for the GOP. After screaming bloody murder about the law for three years, Republicans have successfully convinced many Americans to oppose health care reform. At the same time, much of the country has grown to like, want, and expect many of the law's protections.
What will Republicans do about this? They have no earthly idea. For example, ThinkProgress caught up with Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) the other day, and despite his fierce opposition to the law, he's fully on board with many of the law's key provisions.
For those who can't watch clips online, West expressed his support for allowing young adults to stay on their family's plan until they're 26, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions, and closing the Medicare prescription drug donut hole. In other words, this right-wing opponent of Obamacare is comfortable keeping the most popular parts of Obamacare, despite already having voted to kill these benefits, and despite the policy measures that interconnect the popular and unpopular provisions.
What's more, it's not just West -- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who's also voted to eliminate the entire law, also said protections for young adults should remain in place.
For three years, Republican policymakers thought it was simply enough to whine incessantly about health care reform and how much they hated President Obama's reform package. Now, it's slowly dawning on them that the larger questions need answers.
As a Republican health care aide told Sahil Kapur, "I do think some Republicans are finally starting to realize they could be the dog that caught the car."
There's no easy way out of this. "Repeal and replace" is already dead, and the Republican base has demanded, in no uncertain terms, that every letter of the Affordable Care Act has to go. No matter how effective the policies are, no matter how popular they might be, no matter what the consequences might be of repeal, conservatives will tolerate nothing less than the old, dysfunctional health care system. No exceptions.
Just two weeks ago, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) adopted the same line, telling reporters, "We voted to fully repeal the president's healthcare law as one of our first acts as a new House majority, and our plan remains to repeal the law in its entirety. Anything short of that is unacceptable."
So, for Washington's most powerful GOP official, the only "acceptable" outcome is one in which tens of millions of Americans lose their health care coverage, seniors pay higher prescription drug costs, small businesses lose their tax breaks, and the deficit goes up by hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade.
In 2009, Republicans said they agreed with 80% of Obamacare. In 2012, it's down to zero.
What's unclear at this point is what happens if and when the dog actually catches the car. The American mainstream wants many of the law's benefits to stay in place; the GOP base expects all of the law's benefits to disappear. No one knows what'll happen, but as a rule, Republicans don't ignore their base often.