There have been so many articles written about the effort to defund or delay Obamacare that I hesitated to even begin typing this sentence. What is one more voice in this chorus? Can it change a mind? Will it affect the outcome? I'm not sure, but I feel there are some things that are worth saying especially in light of the multitude of arguments & debates being had all over social media in response to Avik Roy's piece at National Review on this subject.
Roy is very much opposed to Obamacare and everything for which it stands. Reading his articles over the course of this debate, it's clear that he loathes the law and believes it is destructive to American life and to the future of healthcare. He believes that there is a way to create an environment that would encourage and assist repeal of the law so long as we are very careful and deliberate in how we handle the next few legislative sessions and don't overplay our hand. It's a position that is common among thought leaders and politicians throughout the beltway and spread out across the nation.
It's a reasonable point of view.
However, the story does not end here. While this point of view is pervasive on the right, there is a different tactic in front of us right now. The "Defund Obamacare" effort which has engendered both love and hate across the spectrum. It's called the last stand against Obamacare by some and a suicide pact by others.
Last week I attended a small retreat at FreedomWorks headquarters in DC on this subject where we discussed what the future of this effort would bring and what to expect from the opposition. Dean Clancy offered great insights into the healthcare law, the legislative tactics being employed, and the contingency plans we might use if a Defund effort failed.
Interestingly, most of the contingency plans seem to center around taking actions similar to those suggested by Roy and those in his camp. The "Defund" camp seems very much in favor of an "everything is on the table" view of Obamacare dismantlement. I was thus confused as to why so many were dead set against an effort to defund as the opening salvo in the next phase of legislative battles leading into 2014.
With all due respect to those who believe they've arrived at intellectually solid ground while opposing Defund the answer is quite simply, fear.
Observe the common arguments encountered on twitter:
"You have a worse hand, but pretend it's better than it is and go all-in. Also, the other guy knows exactly what you have." No thanks.
— Nathan Wurtzel (@NathanWurtzel) September 16, 2013
— AG (@AG_Conservative) September 16, 2013
@drewmtips Not only is the Lee-Cruz plan a long-shot, but when it fails it has definite negative consequences for GOP.
— Gabriel Malor (@gabrielmalor) September 16, 2013
These arguments aren't rooted in any belief that the House couldn't pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) that defunds Obamacare. They aren't rooted in a belief that once that CR went to the Senate, the Senate would propose their own and lead to a conflict which would result in a shutdown. Those parts of the plan will happen. Democrats will do precisely what it is that the Defund proponents and opponents expect them to do. They will fight.
Where opponents of Defund believe the strategy falls apart is when we must depend on Republicans to stand strong in the face of a PR nightmare. Basically "we'll lose the fight but still get blamed and that will hit us hard in 2014."
Well apologies again, but this may just be part of the process. It's time to take our medicine, people. As I said on twitter yesterday, when we've reached the point where each election is so insurmountably important that we must defy our own principles in order to secure election to "survive to the next fight" then we may need to re-evaluate. This is the electoral equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck and, having lived that way before, I can assure you until you accept that there are going to be some consequences for how you got where you are, it's only going to get worse. A PR nightmare can last years. But it will be far worse if you deal with it by curling into a fetal position.
There's no doubt that the Obama machine can spin a fight into one direction and lay the blame at our feet. They might even be right in some ways. But throwing polls at this question misses the entire point of what it is that we're supposed to be doing and what it is that I hopelessly dreamed we would have learned from our 2012 losses: it's our job to convince people that we're right.
Instead, we seem, as evidenced by the arguments I've seen attacking the Defund effort, to be embarking upon a path that worries more about protecting an incumbent so he can "fight the next fight." Only, when we get to that next fight, we find out that it's too dangerous for him to fight or he might not win the next election. Starting to see a pattern?
Is there a chance that Obama wouldn't blink and we would? Yes, there is. Is there a chance we'd win? Hell yes there is. All assumptions to the contrary merely assume that we are and will continue to be on the side that doesn't believe in our cause as much as Obama and Democrats believe theirs. If that's the case, count me out.
There's another aspect to this as well that I think is worth addressing. It's specifically related to Roy's thoughts in his piece at National Review yesterday.
There are a number of problems with this approach. Other than the obvious — that it would never work — it would allow the Senate Democrats to gut the Budget Control Act of 2011, a.k.a. the “sequester,” which has already achieved a remarkable amount of spending control and deficit reduction. As Stephen Moore noted in the Wall Street Journal last month, the sequester is “the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”
Now perhaps Roy is privy to information that I don't have but as of last week, I was told something that completely invalidates this concern. The republicans already plan on giving in on the sequester that Roy is trying to protect.
The idea is this: If we send a CR to the Senate that defunds Obamacare, Harry Reid will open it to the amendment process and when he does so, will remove the defund components and, as long as he's under the hood, remove the sequester (somehow he magically won't open it to amendment process if defunding isn't in there but I digress).
Republicans believe he'll do this because Reid knows that the plan was for Republicans to use the sequester as a bargaining chip in the upcoming debt ceiling debate. Essentially, "we can't have him take sequester away because then how will we use it to delay Obamacare when we fight over raising the debt ceiling?"
Makes little sense to me but also highlights the important point that the Republicans are planning on giving away the sequester regardless. So we're not really protecting anything except the ability to fight the same fight later and lose more. Put another way "we can't defeat Obamacare now or we won't be able to defeat it later while also losing the sequester!"
I'm not sure why this is considered a brilliant way to handle the problem but this is what I was told by people I know and trust on the Hill that are in support of the action.
The worst part of this tact and the tactic pushed by the people tweeting above, is that it continues the never-ending cycle of "the next fight." The idea that each fight is less important the closer we get to it and that instead we must focus on what is coming next. It's always easy to fight tomorrow what you don't have the energy or will to fight today. I don't believe the people that are against defunding Obamacare are automatically RINOs or that they "love Obamacare." I just think they're afraid that the Republicans will fail us like they always do when it comes to staring down the opposition and they are trying to get out in front of it with a plan that assumes their weakness. What they don't seem to realize is that they're giving those Republicans exactly the justification they need to do what they always do: nothing.