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Thoughts on Defunding Obamacare

A few caveats before writing this entry. One of the biggest things that got me more interested than ever before in national politics was the rise of Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign, particularly the Democratic primaries. Having satiated my desire to determine who this man was and coming away generally dissatisfied, the worst fears of an Obama administration were confirmed almost from the start. Whether it was the auto bail out (I remain convinced that a structured bankruptcy would have been a better, longer lasting solution than American taxpayers taking a bath) to the “stimulus,” which was soon revealed to be a payoff to his political supporters that achieved nothing but get the country even deeper in debt after a recession, the writing was on the wall. He could portray himself as a “moderate,” as a “post-partisan president” (whatever that is), or whatever, but Obama proved himself to be a liberal in every sense of the word. Although no doubt influenced by Marxists in his past, he was not a communist, but more a socialist in the modern Europe mold. To me, that was the antithesis of what this country was and what it stood for in the past.

Instead of concentrating on a recovering economy after the recession- which is what most presidents would have done- Obama squandered him time, efforts, and political capital on reordering one-sixth of the US economy through his health care reform. Facing obvious opposition, Pelosi, Reid and Obama had to resort to a parliamentary trick to get Obamacare passed. With statements to the effect that one had to pass the bill first to see what was in it (to paraphrase Nancy Pelosi), this only solidified in my mind that we were smelling a rat. It should not require 2,000 pages of legalese to reform health care in America. It became increasingly obvious that the entire “reform” effort was half-assed backwards. Instead of trying to insure an inflated number of people considered “uninsured,” they should have first attacked the cost of health care thus making it easier for everyone- not just the uninsured- to afford at least catastrophic health insurance. Instead, they misdiagnosed the ailment as being caused by the uninsured, as if getting them insured would magically lower premiums for everyone. This only confirmed that the “eggheadedness” of the so-called experts and technocrats on the liberal side are living in the realm of the theoretical, but pretty much suck when faced with reality.

Then, the implementation of the law was rather front-loaded not because the policies were necessarily good, but because they were politically popular. Going back four years, I do not remember too many Republicans arguing against covering pre-existing conditions. In fact, they were also pretty much for keeping kids on a parent’s insurance, although the age cut-off may have differed by two or three years. After these popular items became law, then the tough stuff came which has resulted in delays in implementation because the delay itself is politically expedient.

Conservatives initially put their hopes on defeating Obamacare in the hands of the United States Supreme Court. However, through a legal sleight of hand, those hopes were dashed at the tip of Chief Justice John Roberts’ pen. One day the story of the Court’s deliberations will be written. For now, most conservative vitriol was and is still directed at John Roberts. As this writer views it- perhaps giving Roberts too much credit- he handed Romney a huge talking point by framing the rationale for Obamacare wrapped in the language of the tax code. That is, this was one of the largest, most burdensome tax increases in our Nation’s history disguised as health care reform. Unfortunately, either Mitt Romney’s campaign failed to fathom the gift handed him or they failed to accurately articulate that fact to the electorate, and Obamacare lives.

Since that Supreme Court series of decisions (incidentally, the Medicaid decision was a conservative victory that has made implementation at the state level difficult), putting the key aspects of the law into effect have been hit and miss, mostly misses. For example, the onerous excise tax on medical devices has been repealed. Several states have failed to establish exchanges while entities too numerous to mention have been granted waivers. And one can fully expect that the so-called excise tax on “cadillac insurance” plans- which basically benefit the extremely wealthy, and organized labor- will never come to be. Other than the individual mandate and associated “tax penalties,” there is little to fund Obamacare other than continued borrowing.

Which brings me to the purpose of this article. The recent buzz in the conservative blogosphere, especially here at Redstate, is an effort to “defund” Obamacare. Since July 1st, this website alone has run at least 24 articles by front page writers- thirteen by Erick Erickson himself- whose primary thrust is to stop Obamacare funding and, by proxy, using the inevitable continuing resolution as a bargaining chip to do so. Thus far, the gist has been to place pressure on House and Senate members to cease Obamacare funding and, if any particular member of Congress expresses any “solution” short of that, to hold their feet to the electoral fire. And there is nothing the matter with this. It is, after all, political advocacy and pressuring lawmakers is certainly legitimate political advocacy. The names most often mentioned in the Senate are Republicans John Cornyn of Texas, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, although other Senators have mentioned, mainly one of the 12 who, for whatever reason, did not sign a letter by Mike Lee. Just recently, Congressman Corey Gardner of Colorado was singled out as well as Bill Schuster of Pennsylvania and every conservative’s villain, John Boehner of Ohio. In one of the latest articles, Gardner was called a “weasel” because he “bailed out” on a Tea Party Express event geared towards the defunding fight.

Personally, I have no trouble with anyone calling a spade a spade and if Gardner is a weasel, then call him a weasel. I have never really liked Mitch McConnell as Minority Leader in the Senate because he represents the old guard and by “old guard” I do not necessarily mean the “establishment” of the GOP. He is just old, staid and boring- a Republican mirror image of Harry Reid. If his primary opponent can be more dynamic, represent the views of Kentucky constituents and have a better than even chance of winning a general election, I would have no problems with sending McConnell back to the Bluegrass State in retirement.

However, before proceeding down this path, two very important considerations need to be taken into account. The first is the short term political effect and the longer term practical effect. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has let it be known that this upcoming September battle may be the last best chance to oppose Obamacare, and that may very well be true. However, conservative activist Avik Roy, one of the signatories to a letter urging a delay in the implementation of Obamacare in the interest of fairness, and to avoid fraud and security vulnerabilities, noted that instead of full defunding now, a one-year delay may be a better option. To many, this may appear to be foot-dragging and losing out on an opportunity, of not seizing the moment (the September Continuing Resolution fight) and standing on principle. There is no doubt that should the federal government “shut down” over an Obamacare funding argument, the blame will fall squarely on the Republican Party, right or wrong. If anyone doubts that liberals, Democrats, and Obama using the bully pulpit will not resort to scare tactics, then they are ignorant of recent history (the sequester comes to mind readily). Thus, the short term peril is the possibility that there will be a voter backlash against Republicans come November, 2014 that may imperil control of the House. Today, as I write this, Democrats and (God forbid) Pelosi retaking the House would require a Herculean task on their part. “Shutting down” the government over Obamacare funding would be the biggest issue used against the GOP in 2014. After all, the government shut down under Gingrich in the 1990s did the Republicans no favors.

But, the “other option”- a one year delay- is also fraught with political dangers in the short term specific to the Senate. Republicans need six Senate seats to take control and the goal is so enticingly close you could almost smell it. To do so, the GOP must unseat either Mark Pryor in Arkansas and/or Mary Landrieu in Louisiana. The Democratic Party’s struggles in finding a candidate in Montana are now a joke on serious political websites while Mark Begich in Alaska may also be endangered. What would be really satisfying is if Joe Manchin in West Virginia switches parties, but that is a long shot. Delaying the implementation of all of Obamacare under the guise of fairness, or ensuring there are no security breaches, or there is no vulnerability to fraud would put the GOP on the U.S.S. Political Expediency, the same ship captained by Barack Obama who delayed, until after the 2014 elections, the onerous requirements being foisted upon small businesses. What this would do politically is let people like Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich off the Obamacare ropes. They have probably already stepped up their Sunday service attendance praying and hoping the GOP chooses the delay option.

The other point that needs to be made- the longer term concern- is that other than calling out individual Senators and Congressmen for being ambiguous, or failing/refusing to sign a letter, or cancelling out on a Tea Party Express event, not a single article on Redstate since July 1st answers the question: “Then what?” If Obamacare is defunded, then what is the GOP reform program? Obviously, there are answers out there besides tort reform and selling across state lines and the like, but none of these articles mention what the replacement policy to Obamacare should be. We may talk in vague and sweeping terms like “free market reforms,” but they mean little to the Average Joe who, incidentally, doesn’t think too highly of Obamacare. In other words, before the Republican Party adopts a stance of any kind be it some form of capitulation coupled with some Democratic give-aways, delay in implementation, or even shutting down the government in an effort to defund Obamacare, it would be prudent to have a back up plan or proposal for health care reform that is clearly articulated in terms the electorate can understand. Thus far, a decent job has been done by conservatives here and elsewhere in illustrating how Obamacare adversely affects the Average Joe. What they have not done is illustrate how a Republican plan would advantageously affect the Average Joe. I believe the Average Joe has an intuitive idea of what may work that is more closely aligned with conservative ideals. Otherwise, all the propaganda put forth by Obama regarding Obamacare would be accepted by the public by now. Yet, here we are four years later and the American public is still not enamored with Obamacare.

I fully understand that before a replacement plan can be enacted, Obamacare must be repealed. But, that is not going to happen unless you have control of the House, the Senate and a Republican in the White House. Even then, unless Reid does resort to the so-called “nuclear option,” it may be difficult to achieve that goal since the Democrats will simply, if in the minority, use the same parliamentary tactics being used by Republicans in the Senate now. That helps explain why he hasn’t yet hit that “nuclear option” button.

In a perverse way, borrowing a trick from Saul Alinsky’s tactics that Democrats know all too well, demanding the full implementation of Obamacare on schedule and letting people see that it is in vivid, tangible terms “a train wreck” should spur a groundswell of public demand to get rid of it that legislators cannot ignore. Perhaps this is what is behind the comments of people like Rand Paul who argue that delaying implementation is against the law and unconstitutional. Using defunding as a de facto method of repeal as a bargaining chip against passing another continuing resolution is replete with political pitfalls, as is delaying implementation. One could cost Republicans the House, the other the Senate. Instead, forcing a Senate vote on repeal and putting every Senator on record is one desirable option. Then and only then the delay option could be used which would be more palatable to vulnerable Democrats. If they voted not to repeal, that could be used against them in 2014; they would have to explain why they voted for keeping Obamacare. Then 2014 would be the year for Republicans to make their case for a replacement reform program for health care and be relentless in that campaign while keeping vulnerable Democrats “vulnerable” in the Senate, and maintaining control of the House.

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