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Like a dog that finally catches a car and suddenly discovers it wishes it hadn’t, the Trump administration acknowledges being unprepared for what’s next if the Affordable Care Act is scuttled by a federal lawsuit that the administration supports. The White House says that if the administration gets the ruling it’s been seeking, it will ask for a stay until it can come up with an alternative to prevent people from losing their health care en masse.

Such a stay, conveniently enough, would likely postpone a catastrophic effect until after the 2020 election. It’s the clearest sign yet that the years-long Republican cry of “repeal and replace” was never about the latter.

Obamacare was created to address the fact that some 20 million Americans lacked health care coverage, an intolerable situation that rippled throughout the health care system, leaving curable illnesses untended because patients couldn’t afford treatment. Most importantly, Obamacare required medical insurance policies to offer reasonably priced coverage to people with preexisting conditions like diabetes. Before, those patients had routinely been denied coverage.

After Republicans tried and failed for years to repeal the law, a group of Republican state attorneys general — including then-Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, now a U.S. senator — sued in federal court to knock it down. They argued that because a Republican Congress managed to repeal the mandate that requires all Americans to have health insurance, the rest of the law should be invalid. It’s a novel argument, but one that a conservative judge in Texas has already backed. It is now under consideration by a federal appeals court, which could rule soon.

The White House earlier took the unusual step of declining to defend a U.S. law in court, announcing instead it sided with the effort to strike down Obamacare. Now it’s taking another unusual step, saying that if the court does what the administration is specifically asking it to do and strikes it down, the administration would seek a stay to prevent that decision from going into effect immediately.

Officials say that’s so a new plan can be put in place to cover the millions of Americans who would suddenly return to being uninsurable. The GOP has been vowing and failing for years to come up with such a plan.

“There will be a stay,” an administration official assured The Washington Post. “It’s not like the decision is going to come down, and the world is going to change.”

But a changed world — a world without the safety net that Obamacare provides to millions — is exactly what the GOP has been clamoring for. It’s worth asking why they’re suddenly so anxious to make sure Americans don’t get to see what that world looks like before they go to the polls next year.

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Judy Ferro is a columnist for the Idaho Press.

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