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Matthew Tolliver

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This Crisis Is Not About Obamacare

Posted: 10/15/2013 8:28 pm

The current crises of government shutdown and impending debt default are not about Obamacare.

Your views on government-mandated healthcare do not matter here. And while Paul Ryan's move to focus on longer term tax and entitlement issues made sense (but was slapped down by several Republicans, including the team of noted Nazi-invoker Ted Cruz), his argument only further pointed to the fact that the issue at hand isn't Obamacare.

Obamacare may limit individual liberty, or it could catalyze a dynamic labor market unencumbered by employee dependence on employer-based insurance. We'll see reality play out in the years to come. That debate is not, however, germane to today's stalemate. Similarly, current polling data shows many Americans do not favor the Affordable Healthcare Act. If national public opinion polls mattered in federal legislative standoffs, Congress would have passed stricter gun control laws many times over.

Obamacare is the bogeyman held up to justify Republican hostage-taking, but the crisis is not healthcare. The crisis is a minority party's quest for power and its implications for governability. The Hell No Caucus has a vision for the country based on their minority views, and cannot be bothered to compromise with the majority. They've lost the debate, but are refusing to move the country forward.

As Scott Rigell (R-VA) likes to say, let's "elevate the facts."

Facts: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, was passed by the House and Senate in 2009. The president signed it into law in 2010. In 2011, the House passed a bill to repeal it. This bill did not pass the Senate. There have been many other attempts to defund or repeal Obamacare during the last 3 years. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled on Obamacare and judged that the individual mandate is constitutional but that the federal government could not coerce states into accepting Medicaid expansion. Twenty-six states have opted out of receiving Medicaid expansion, thus legitimately, if controversially, refusing to accept provisions within the legislation. On October 1, 2013, insurance exchanges, one of the law' signature provisions, went into effect.

To recap: Legislation was passed, has been multiple times challenged and judged, and is today a law of which implementation has begun. The passing and upholding of this law represents how U.S. government functions, no matter what you think of the law's content. All three branches have participated, with checks and balances, in all of the hideously inefficient glory that our founders intended. Republicans have decided not to fix the law's flaws. They've instead focused on getting rid of Obamacare and the only way to overturn any law is through repeal*.

The recipe for repeal is simple -- win the presidency and gain a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate (or gain a Senate majority and then attack through reconciliation). Failing that, Republicans need to get out of the way, and recognize that the wants of their most extreme constituents do not supersede the importance of a functioning U.S. government that is able to pay its previously accumulated debts.

Unfortunately, as suspected witch Nate Silver points out, there is little proof that this current experiment in embarrassing governance will impact elections. And that knowledge, mixed with the most polarized Congress in nearly a century, means the Hell No caucus is unlikely to place the country's broader interests ahead of their own political goals. If extreme views win the day, Ted Cruz would then be slightly more justified in his ridiculous allusions to Nazi Germany -- the U.S. would be the first major Western government since 1933 Germany to default on its public debt.

It is clear that the president and Democrats should provide no comfort to the Republican Party. No favors should be gained and no bargaining position improved. To reward this brinksmanship is to justify the idiotic shutdown and the debt threats. Many Republicans believe that through secure districts and a belief that consistent talking points create truth, they can revive and win a debate they have lost.

I support the functioning of our system, and say no to this tactic. This view has nothing to do with feelings toward universal healthcare and everything to do with the governability of the country. I also will support the FAIR Act (HR 278), and other initiatives that work to address gerrymandering. This will at least begin to resolve how we got here.

A resolution is supposedly around the corner -- a CR that will fund the government at sequester levels for three months. A debt-ceiling raise that will last us four months. Governance by pay day loan is not a legislative paradigm befitting a great nation.

*Those that point to the fact that the employer mandate was delayed and argue that Obama could easily have delayed the individual mandate do not understand the basics of how expanding health insurance coverage works. Delaying the employer mandate is trying to improve how the law works and to alleviate problems for businesses (though recognizing that their discomfort is secondary to universal coverage). Delaying the individual mandate is simply driving up costs or killing the entire initiative. Not happening.

 

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