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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal Obamacare dozens of times now. All they are is “against” something. That’s cheap and easy and ultimately bad for democracy.

What Republicans really need to be is “for” something. But they don’t want to put forward their own plan for fear that voters will like it even less than they currently dislike Obamacare.

Philip Klein, Washington Examiner commentary editor and author of the new book “Overcoming Obamacare” is truly sick of hearing this standard issue Democratic talking point repeated incessantly.

The problem isn’t that the Republicans in Congress and in GOP-leaning think tanks don’t have an alternative to Obamacare. Rather, the snag is that they have too many alternatives, and a president who doesn’t want to budge one inch.

Klein (a friend and former colleague) worries that Republican division on the issue just might hand a victory by inaction to this creeping government takeover of American healthcare.

“Getting Republicans to unify around a healthcare strategy, however, is a challenge,” he writes, in his usual understated way. Many of the differences among post-Obamacare Republican plans “are rooted in a principled disagreement over what the appropriate role is for the federal government in the first place.”

The book Klein has written to help us do this is not what you’d expect. He doesn’t give us a manifesto of exactly What Must Be Done but rather a guide to the three different Republican approaches, or “schools,” for reforming American healthcare away from Obamacare. In the process, he makes himself into the new referee of Obamacare reform:

The groups that Klein identifies are:

The “reform” school: Reformers, such as former Mitt Romney adviser and think tank wonk Arvik Roy (pictured above, right; Klein on the left), would accept the broad outline of Obamacare but use it to slightly different ends, to reform other healthcare entitlement programs whose costs could bankrupt the country.

The “replace” school: Replacers, such as former-Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.) and Orrin Hatch (Utah) would repeal Obamacare but replace it with legislation that preserved certain popular aspects of Obamacare.

The “restart” school: Restarters, such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, would scrap Obamacare and try to reform American healthcare as it existed before Obamacare in a more free market direction.

Klein does a good, brief job of describing the policy and politics of all this. He blows his new whistle along the way several times.

With one grand proposal, Roy claims to “throw a bone” to “centrist Democrats” in the Senate. Yet Klein shows just how little sympathy Democrats are likely to have for ANY reform proposals. He also shows that the reformers and replacers both rely on DC accounting to claim to “save money” – relative to the ballooning spending of Obamacare only.

Klein even manages to get some of the most crotchety restarters to admit that, yes, a new plan will have to address the issue of those Americans who can not be insured because of prior conditions. Instead of upending the entire American health INSURANCE market to deal with this undeniable problem, as Obamacare did, how about we find a way to get them healthCARE instead?

Before reading Klein’s book, I too had despaired that Republican differences just might permanently saddle us with what Paul Krugman has called a “Rube Goldberg device” that amounts to “a rough approximation of a single payer [socialist] system.”

Now I have a little bit more hope. “Overcoming Obamacare” has the feel of a black-and-white striped eminence throwing a flag down on the field. The Republican debate finally has a ref with a sharp eye, a game clock, and all the right instincts about why this contest is so important.

Jeremy Lott About the author:
Jeremy Lott helped found and manage four publications for the Real Clear Politics family of websites. He is the author of three books and an e-book, as well as the recognized ghostwriter of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel’s memoirs. Follow him on Twitter @jeremylottdiary
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