Congress must repeal Obamacare. It must also simultaneously replace Obamacare.

Repealing without replacing is an enticing strategy to many Republicans. But it would be error.

“Repeal and delay” is the name for the course of action many congressional Republicans favor. Under this strategy, within days or weeks of President Trump taking office, Congress would pass a bill repealing Obamacare on a future date, perhaps years down the line. Then, with the clock ticking, Republians would try to force Democrats to go along with a replacement bill.

This is unwise for many reasons.

Nobody who has followed Congress in the past 20 years should believe Republicans would win a test of congressional brinksmanship. Past journeys to the edge of disaster have always ended with GOP surrender, typically after heaping servings of scorn.

Gingrich-era government shutdowns, Tea Party government shutdowns, flirting with the debt limit: none of them were GOP victories. Democrats have been willing to let the GOP blow something up, and Republicans were too divided to stand firm and too muddled in their thinking.

If Democrats filibuster a replacement bill at the deadline of repeal, Republicans will be blamed. That’s a law of nature.

Once a repeal bill is passed, even if it delays the effective date of repeal, insurers could start announcing the cancellation of plans sold on Obamacare’s exchanges, as they don’t have a reason to keep losing money in a market they know will soon close for good. “The political firestorm that would ensue from several million people losing their insurance,” write Joe Antos and Jim Capretta of the American Enterprise Institute, “could be enough to force the GOP to reverse course and take steps to provide some kind of emergency insurance for this population, which could be even more costly than the ACA.” Just this week, after Republicans voted to kill the Office of Congressional Ethics, we saw how a massive public backlash can derail concrete plans. Throw in Congress’s inability to meet deadlines, and replacement brinkmanship is obvious folly.

Economically, repeal without replace could prove awful policy, too. Insurance is all about risk. If insurers have no idea what will happen in a year, but they know something big will happen, that increases their risk, which could further increase the premiums they charge.

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Legislatively there is another huge problem. Only some of Obamacare can be repealed through the process known as budget reconciliation. Reconciliation bills are immune from a 41-vote filibuster. The remaining parts of the law would have to be repealed in a separate bill, which Democrats could filibuster.

So instant repeal isn’t full repeal. Republicans, roughly, could kill the taxes and the spending in the law, but not the regulations.

Congress and the Trump White House could accomplish some of the goals of immediate repeal without needing to repeal the whole law. The administration could, through executive action, relax some of the regulations that make affordable plans illegal, or that, for example, force nuns to provide birth-control coverage. Congress could pass a law freezing new sign-ups on Obamacare’s exchanges or for its Medicaid expansion. Over time, through natural attrition (such as individuals dropping Obamacare after obtaining job-based insurance) the GOP would shrink the number of people who would see disruptions upon total repeal.

During this time, Republicans can get to work crafting a replacement, which could be passed alongside a repeal bill. Crafting a replacement is a lot harder than passing a repeal bill. But governing isn’t supposed to be easy.

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