GOP quietly builds Obamacare alternative

“The only alternative that Obamacare’s critics have is, well, ‘let’s just go back to the status quo,’ ” said President Barack Obama recently, “because they sure haven’t presented an alternative.”

It’s an argument Democrats make all the time – often, these days, to divert attention from the ongoing problems of their troubled national health care scheme. But still, why haven’t Republicans presented an alternative to Obamacare?

GOP leaders would protest immediately: They have come up with dozens of health care bills, only to see them rejected by Democrats. But the fact is, Republicans have not united behind a single health care proposal, even as millions of Americans would like to see what they’ve got. Why?

For one thing, they don’t believe in the Obamacare approach.

But, of course, Obama will never give up Obamacare. But the public might if Republicans have something better.

Now, many House Republicans have gotten behind a plan. The American Health Care Reform Act, H.R. 3121, includes many of the GOP’s standard health care prescriptions. It starts by repealing Obamacare, then includes a tax fairness provision, state lines provision, high-risk-pool provision, malpractice provision and others.

It’s not the perfect bill. Conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru questions some of its tax provisions and its malpractice plan, but still concludes “even with these flaws, though, the Republican plan is superior to Obamacare.”

The bill is the work of the House Republican Study Committee, led by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. It has 116 co-sponsors, which is an important number because it is more than half the Republican caucus in the GOP-controlled House.

But so far, the House GOP leadership has been uninterested in going forward with that alternative. Leadership sources say their focus is on Obamacare, and the hope of forcing some Democrats to abandon the law.

The fact is, top House Republicans don’t seem to be pushing very hard to build support for a GOP alternative.

But it is time to move.

The bill’s authors have asked Obama for a meeting to discuss health care. They can forget about that. A powerful committee chairman, Rep. Fred Upton of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has asked the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill, which will yield an estimate of its budgetary effects. And they will continue to gather sponsors.

It might turn out Republicans will finally produce their long-awaited alternative whether leadership wants it.

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