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Obamacare and the “Governing” Trap

reid mcconnell

One of the most reliable features of the DC ruling class is having raised “governing” to a fetish.

Contrary to the line being pushed into the conventional wisdom by the Ruling Class, the government shutdown was much more than a disagreement over tactics [The Budget Shutdown Was About Ideology Not Tactics], it marked a deep ideological divide within the GOP between those who strive to govern for its own sake and those that believe governance must emanate from principle.

Ramesh Ponnuru recounts, approvingly, of an interview he had with a brave GOP senator who wished to remain unnamed [A Republican Senator Doubts His Party Can Govern]:

He never thought that Republicans should demand that Congress defund President Barack Obama’s health-care plan as the price of keeping the government open or raising the debt ceiling. When Tip O’Neill was speaker of the House, the senator observes, Democrats could have tried to use the same tactics to force President Ronald Reagan to repeal the tax reform he had signed or, for that matter, the postwar law that allowed “right to work” states. They would have lost, too. “You don’t have to be a defeatist to be able to count.”

[…]

He also expresses a deeper anxiety. At a Senate Republican lunch the day of the vote, someone mentioned that the party wasn’t ready to run the Senate: If Republicans had held a majority in both the House and the Senate, they wouldn’t have been able to pass anything in either chamber. The senator thinks such a turn of events would have been “incredibly damaging.”

He heard a similar sentiment from the other chamber of Congress: House Republicans from his state have told him how much happier some of their colleagues would be if they were in the minority and could just lob spitballs at the Democrats. “We have to really think how we become the governing party,” he says.

By contrast, he says, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell originally had “a realistic strategy” on the budget, one that accurately gauged how much Republicans could achieve. “It was not a go-to-the-moon strategy, but we don’t have enough fuel to get to the moon.”

The first observation I would make is this particular senator is close to ignorant of what went on with Reagan and the tax reform legislation in his first term. The tax reform was the product of extensive negotiations between the White House, the Senate, and the House. Its sponsor was Democrat representative Dan Rostenkowski. The bill passed the House with a vote of 323-107 and the Conference Report was passed by the Democrat House 282-95. The reason Tip O’Neill did not hold this bill hostage because the House leadership essentially wrote it. Compare and contrast with the way Obamacare was handled.

Secondly, it is most curious that he lauds Mitch McConnell’s leadership but arrives at the conclusion that the Senate isn’t ready for prime time. If the Senate isn’t ready to govern, Brave Sir Robin the Senator, should be agitating for a change in leadership not supporting America’s equivalent of the sclerotic Soviet Politburo.

Ed Rogers, chairman of Haley Barbour’s lobbying group, blogs in the Washington Post [We don’t need nostalgia, we need a plan]:

Almost all of that is meaningless in Congress today. No one is really legislating anymore. It’s all about the periodic mega-votes on continuing resolutions or the symbolic votes that the interest groups rate and the talking heads obsess about. For many Republicans, what they really care about is whether or not the Club for Growth will give them a pass in their primary, whether they get face time on a cable news shouting match and whether or not the bloggers and talk radio hosts think they are sufficiently belligerent about all things Obama. The lack of strategy and collective discipline has produced an every-man-for-himself political culture that is the enemy of real policy development.

[…]

So will Republicans step into the void, articulate a proactive, positive vision for the future, unite our party/country and above all else, lead?‎ Nothing less than the GOP’s standing as a credible national party and America’s unquestioned global leadership is at stake.

The most hilarious entry to this early celebration of Festivus comes from a scion of the Ohio Taft family, Robert G. Taft [The Cry of the True Republican]. Taft, relying upon his DNA and pedigree for entrée into the debate snivels:

There is more than a passing similarity between Joseph McCarthy and Ted Cruz, between McCarthyism and the Tea Party movement. The Republican Party survived McCarthyism because, ultimately, its excesses caused it to burn out. And eventually party elders in the mold of my grandfather were able to realign the party with its brand promise: The Republican Party is (or should be) the Stewardship Party. The Republican brand is (or should be) about responsible behavior. The Republican party is (or should be) at long last, about decency.

In today’s Washington Post, Michael Gerson makes the case that opposing Obamacare essentially means you want granny to die [GOP: Stop being so negative]:

But there is a serious danger here for the GOP as well. Republicans who believe that their only political task is to reflect — to exactly mirror — public distrust for government have drawn the wrong lesson. Those who ride such purely negative populism to power will merely become newer objects of public disdain. Americans do not want public officials who share their contempt for government; they want public officials who no longer justify it.

The alternative to grandiosity and incompetence is not to do nothing. It is to achieve policy goals in ways that are practical, incremental and effective. Americans have not ceased looking for responses to routine educational failure or persistent economic stagnation — or to the problems of an expensive, inequitable health-care system. These are public challenges, in which government plays an inescapable role. A successful political party will provide a superior conception of that role.

[…]

Conservatives do not (or should not) oppose Obamacare because they want fewer Americans to receive health care. But making this clear requires an alternative that covers more people at a lower cost, without all the regulations, taxes and mandates of the current system. On this issue, and others, Americans will be more likely to trust Republicans to govern when they demonstrate an interest in governing.

Gentle readers, this line of argument is nothing short of malarkey.

We do not have a parliamentary system of government; we have a winner take all system. At this point we are the opposition party and even a high school level student of government can readily observe that the Democrats hold the White House, the Executive Branch, a majority of directors in the independent regulatory agencies, and the Senate. This means that all the levers of governance are concentrated in one party. Indeed, a willful president can do much as he pleases even though opposed by the Congress. This is not new. Teddy Roosevelt responded to Congress’s refusal to fund a round the world tour by the Great White Fleet by saying he had enough money to send them half way around the world and Congress could bring them back if it wanted.

The idea that the GOP is a partner in governance is just so profoundly counterfactual as to be dismissed out of hand. While there are always opportunities for mutual cooperation that don’t require compromising core principles, we need to focus on doing what opposition parties do: oppose and obstruct.

The GOP Smart Set is perpetually convinced that in order to defeat the Democrat political agenda you have to have a better alternative. You don’t. As you should learn early in life, doing nothing is actually doing something. In fact, in the case of Obamacare we are learning that doing nothing would have been infinitely preferable to what has been done. Just because the Democrats propose some obscenely stupid idea… like comprehensive immigration reform… doesn’t mean we have to counter with an obscenely stupid idea of our own.

In the case of Obamacare, Erick hits the nail on the head [Follow the Law]:

Republicans should be opposed to any and all fixes of Obamacare. The GOP should not lift even half a finger to accommodate Democrat demands for changes. The Democrats planned and implemented Obamacare without a single Republican vote. They made clear they did not need the votes. They used a budgetary procedure in the Senate to get around a filibuster after the people of Massachusetts sent a Republican in Ted Kennedy’s steed to try to stop it.

So the Democrats can own it. They can own every deleted application, every delayed entry into the website, every denial of insurance, every decline in full time work, and every denial of care that comes from this horrible law.

There is a story that has long been told in military circles and was recently popularized by General H. R. McMaster in his book Dereliction of Duty. This story is this: As the Vietnam War began to escalate the Joint Chiefs of Staff began to realize it was not going to end well. One by one McNamara co-opted the service chiefs until it was Army General Harold K. Johnson standing alone:

General Harold K. Johnson, Army Chief of Staff from July 1964 to July 1968, after his retirement engaged in considerable self-examination about his decision to remain on active duty in spite of his grave objections to the prosecution of the Vietnam War:

I remember the day I was ready to go over to the Oval Office and give my four stars to the President and tell him, “You have refused to tell the country they cannot fight a war without mobilization; you have required me to send men into battle with little hope of their ultimate victory; and you have forced us in the military to violate almost every one of the principles of war in Vietnam. Therefore, I resign and will hold a press conference after I walk out of your door.”

But he didn’t. From Dereliction of Duty, page 318:

Dereliction of Duty- Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff - H. R. McMaster - Google Books

This is exactly the position the GOP Ruling Class is advocating: “we opposed Obamacare but we will work with you to make it work because WE ARE RESPONSIBLE.”

This shows why we are not called the Stupid Party™ for nothing. Collaborating, and I don’t use this word accidentally, with the Democrats to salvage Obamacare 1) will not fix a law with myriad fatal internal flaws, 2) will not gain acceptance for the GOP with the Washington media, 3) will not serve the interests of the American working class, and 4) will not be remembered kindly by the GOP base in 2014.

As the magnitude of #FAIL in Obamacare becomes patently obvious over the next ninety days, surely as day follows night there will be pressure from within the GOP to work with the Administration to attempt to un**** the meltdown of the health insurance industry.

We will be told it is our responsibility to govern and that the American people will loathe our inaction if we don’t act to make Obamacare better. There is no good served in working to fix a fatally flawed law and assuming joint responsibility for the economic damage this law has done to American families and businesses.

That is not governing, that is the Stockholm Syndrome and a betrayal of the voters who sent Republicans to Congress.

 

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