Democrats own Obamacare, and its political costs keep rising

Reuters

Protesters against (L) and for (R) US President Barack Obama's healthcare law gather outside the Supreme Court during the first day of legal arguments over the Affordable Care Act in Washington March 26, 2012.

Article Highlights

  • Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price.

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  • The so-called surrender caucus is correct in predicting that Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate will never allow the defunding of Obamacare.

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  • When they passed Obamacare, Democrats thought they were achieving a triumph free of any cost. Now, as Obamacare founders, they are paying the price.

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Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price.

That's been a saying of mine for many years, though I may have unconsciously plagiarized it from someone else. I think it applies to Obamacare.

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Norman Ornstein has been shellacking Republicans for trying to undercut the implementation of the Obama health care legislation. He calls it "simply unacceptable, even contemptible."

He points out that Republicans in the past haven't tried to undercut or derail major legislation of this sort.

That's correct, as a matter of history. You won't find any concerted drive to repeal and replace Social Security after it was enacted in 1935 or Medicare after it was passed in 1965. In contrast, Republicans proclaim they want to repeal and replace Obamacare.

They don't agree on tactics. Some Republicans want to vote to defund Obamacare spending while continuing to fund the government otherwise. Others argue that would be a futile gesture and politically damaging.
 
The two sides have taken to calling each other names — the suicide caucus and the surrender caucus. But both want to get rid of Obamacare because they think it's bad for the country.

The so-called surrender caucus is surely correct in predicting that Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate will never allow the defunding of Obamacare. The so-called suicide caucus is right to point out that government shutdowns are not fatal to congressional Republicans, who maintained their congressional majorities after the shutdowns in the Clinton years.

Other points are more problematic. The defunders argue that once Obamacare subsidies go out people will get hooked on them and support for repeal will tank. Their critics argue that there may be so many glitches (Obama's word) in the rollout of the health insurance exchanges that support will fall below the present low levels.

The fact is that no one knows for sure. But whatever happens, there are good reasons for Republicans to regard Obamacare as a legitimate target.

One is that, unlike Social Security and Medicare, the law was passed by Democrats only, with no bipartisan consultation. Democrats could do that only because accidents — like the later overturned prosecution of Alaska Republican Ted Stevens — gave them a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.

That's a contrast with the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug bill, which as Ornstein points out Democrats didn't try to undercut after it was passed. But Democrats were widely consulted during the legislative process and a non-trivial number of them voted for the final version.

A second point is that Obamacare, unlike Social Security, Medicare and Part D, wasn't consistently supported in public opinion polls. Quite the contrary.

Please don't pass this bill, the public pleaded, speaking in January 2010 through the unlikely medium of the voters of the commonwealth of Massachusetts when they elected Republican Scott Brown to the Senate as the 41st vote against Obamacare.

Democrats went ahead anyway, at the urging of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and with the approval of President Barack Obama. They made that decision knowing that, without a 60th vote in the Senate, the only legislative path forward was for the House to pass a bill identical to the one the Senate passed in December 2009.

No one had intended that to be the final version. Democrats expected to hold a conference committee to comb the glitches out of the Senate bill and the version House passed in November.

Voters had done all they could do to signal that they wanted not a Democratic version of Obamacare but a bipartisan compromise or no legislation at all. Obama and Pelosi ignored that demand.

Under those circumstances it's not surprising that Republicans — politicians and voters — regard the passage of the law as illegitimate. And that they believe they are morally justified in seeking repeal and replacement of legislation they consider gravely harmful to the nation.

You may or may not agree with those judgments. But it shouldn't be hard to see why Republicans feel that way.

Those feelings have been intensified as glitch after glitch in Obamacare come to light — and as the president indicates, contrary to his constitutional duty, that he will not faithfully execute parts of the law.

When they passed Obamacare, Democrats thought they were achieving a triumph free of any cost. Now, as Obamacare founders, they are paying the price.

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