Drop the disastrous plan to defund Obamacare

Reuters

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY) speaks to reporters after Senate luncheons as he is accompanied by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. John Cornyn ( R-TX) and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) at Capitol Hill in Washington, July 16, 2013. U.S. Senate negotiators reached a deal to avert a showdown over threats by Democrats to strip Republicans of their power to filibuster President Barack Obama's executive branch nominees.

Article Highlights

  • The chance that Dems would go along with defunding Obamacare is zero percent.

    Tweet This

  • Bringing the government to a standstill would confirm the Dems’ caricatures that conservatives are reflexively hostile to all government.

    Tweet This

  • Republicans are right that Obamacare is a very bad law.

    Tweet This

Conservatives on Capitol Hill think they have a chance to strike a mortal blow against President Barack Obama’s health-care overhaul this fall. If their plan goes forward, however, it will backfire.

The plan is to oppose any bill to fund the government or increase the debt limit that also provides money for putting the health-care law in place. Because Republicans control the House, Democrats can’t continue borrowing or paying for government operations without Republican support. So, conservatives say, Republicans should insist on defunding Obamacare as the price of that support.

The chance that Democrats would go along -- would give up on their signature legislative initiative of the last decade soon after having won the presidential election and gained Senate and House seats -- approaches zero percent. So if Republicans stay firm in this demand, the result will be either a government shutdown or a partial shutdown combined with a debt default.

Either would be highly unpopular, and each party would blame the other. The public, however, would almost certainly blame Republicans, for five reasons.

First, Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests. Second, the executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere. Third, people will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible. Fourth, some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans. And fifth, the news media will surely side with the Democrats.

Confirming Caricatures
 
This is true even though Obamacare is unpopular. Conservatives and moderate Democrats have grown more skeptical of it over time, and 22 House Democrats voted with the Republicans to delay its individual mandate. But none of those Democratic representatives would have a hard time standing against Republicans if they try this maneuver. They’ll just say they oppose a shutdown or a default. Democratic voters who harbor doubts about the health law will take the same view.

Bringing the federal government to a standstill would confirm the Democrats’ caricatures that conservatives are reflexively hostile to all government. And Republicans would be doing it without proposing a plausible replacement for Obamacare. So Democrats would be able to say that Republicans were crippling the government and credit markets in order to take health insurance away from 30 million people.

While Democrats would stay unified, Republicans would fracture as their standing in the polls dropped and negative news coverage continued. When they inevitably lost the fight, they would be more divided, unpopular and demoralized than before, and the cause of repealing Obamacare would look more like the hobbyhorse of incompetent fanatics.

Republicans are right that Obamacare is a very bad law. They urgently need a strategy for scrapping it -- and any workable strategy has to include a conservative alternative, something few Republicans have shown much interest in proposing. Trying to defund Obamacare through a budget showdown isn’t so much a strategy as a flight from the responsibility of creating a realistic one.

Republican leaders in Congress, especially Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are resisting the defunding gambit because they strongly suspect it won’t work. Its advocates say anyone who rejects this tactic doesn’t really oppose Obamacare. That’s an absurd charge. But Republican leaders would be better able to dismiss it if they had their own strategy for replacing the law.

One possible outcome of this debate is that the Republican House passes a government-funding bill that doesn’t include money for Obamacare, but then gives in to the Democratic Senate on the issue. At that point the conservative groups that are pushing for defunding will say Republican leaders have again betrayed them, and get back to the vital work of raising donations off that idea.

That won’t be the happiest of endgames for Republicans, but it would still be better than a shutdown or default that failed to achieve their goals while inflicting political damage on themselves -- and, in the case of default, substantial economic damage on everyone else.

The repeal of Obamacare is a worthy and potentially popular cause, but it won’t be accomplished through sheer willpower.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Ramesh
Ponnuru

What's new on AEI

Obama should channel Reagan on Russia
image Tackling our nation’s budget problems, head on
image Missing the point on inversions and corporate taxes
image Venezuela betrayed — missed chance to expose regime
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 28
    MON
  • 29
    TUE
  • 30
    WED
  • 31
    THU
  • 01
    FRI
Tuesday, July 29, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Is Medicare's future secure? The 2014 Trustees Report

Please join AEI as the chief actuary for Medicare summarizes the report’s results, followed by a panel discussion of what those spending trends are likely to mean for seniors, taxpayers, the health industry, and federal policy.

Friday, August 01, 2014 | 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Watergate revisited: The reforms and the reality, 40 years later

Please join us as four of Washington’s most distinguished political observers will revisit the Watergate hearings and discuss reforms that followed.

No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.