Earlier Wednesday, at a monthly meeting of conservative House Republicans and reporters in the Rayburn House Office Building, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) took the media to task for misrepresenting what House Republicans have been trying to do, all this while, to the Affordable Care Act:
LABRADOR: You guys in the media continue to report that what conservatives were asking for was a full repeal of Obamacare -- that's absolutely false. We have never asked for a full repeal of Obamacare because we know that we can't get that. We have voted on a full repeal of Obamacare that the Senate has rejected every single time. But what we were asking for, our position from the beginning, was exchanging a one-year [continuing resolution] for a one-year delay of Obamacare. That was something that we thought both sides were giving on something. We would be giving on the fact that we wouldn't be fighting the president anymore for a year on funding the government, and the president would be giving on a one-year delay of Obamacare. So every time you write a story that says that Republicans and conservatives were unreasonable in asking for a complete repeal of Obamacare, you have actually been lying to the American people.
Obviously, over the past few years, the GOP has made several attempts to repeal Obamacare. So how does one reconcile Labrador's insistence here with objective reality? Well, first, you have to focus exclusively on just the legislative michegas that's transpired over the past few weeks, which led to the government shutdown. From there, you have to follow along with the way talking points are parsed. And then it helps if you sort of use your side-eye to look at this.
Let me explain. As The New York Times reported, long before the game of legislative pingpong that went down in the hours that preceded the shutdown, conservatives had outlined a plan to defund the Affordable Care Act. Led by Edwin Meese, a "loose-knit coalition of conservative activists" developed a "blueprint to defunding Obamacare":
It articulated a take-no-prisoners legislative strategy that had long percolated in conservative circles: that Republicans could derail the health care overhaul if conservative lawmakers were willing to push fellow Republicans — including their cautious leaders — into cutting off financing for the entire federal government.
Heritage Action followed suit with a "defund Obamacare" letter, which demanded that "Republicans in both chambers of Congress must all be committed to absolutely refusing to vote for any spending bill that contains funding for ObamaCare."
This set the stage for the legislative battles that came at the end of September. On Sept. 27, the attempt to follow through on this strategy was carried out. The Senate, in a 54-44 vote, stripped a House bill of a provision defunding Obamacare, and then voted along similar lines to send the now-denuded, "clean" continuing resolution back to the House.
That touched off the rest of the back-and-forth, which saw the House GOP steadily scaling back demands, but not enough to mollify Senate Democrats, who were determined not to pay a ransom to fund the government.
Labrador may have a touch of selective memory here: When he says that "our position from the beginning was exchanging a one-year [continuing resolution] for a one-year delay of Obamacare," that's not actually true. The "delay Obamacare" bill only went to the Senate on Sept. 29, after the "defund Obamacare" attempt was rejected.
As that Sept. 27 vote is a matter of recorded history, you may be asking yourself, "Where does Labrador get off suggesting that no one ever attempted to repeal Obamacare?" Well, from the perspective of the GOP legislators, they didn't! During this fight, various Republican lawmakers have sought to explain that "defunding" Obamacare and "repealing" Obamacare are two entirely different concepts.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), even while carping about the obstinacy of his House colleagues, took great care to separate "defunding" and "repealing" conceptually. In fact, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has complained that merely "defunding" Obamacare was a too-generous compromise for the GOP to make. From Talking Points memo:
“The House of Representatives has repeatedly compromised already," said Cruz, who already spoke against funding the law on the Senate floor for 21 hours earlier this month. "The House began -- it is the view of every Republican in this body, and indeed every Republican in the House, that Obamacare should be entirely and completely repealed. Nonetheless, the House started with a compromise of saying not repealing Obamacare but simply that it should be defunded.”
In Cruz's mind, merely defunding Obamacare was a huge concession to Democrats. That neatly dovetails with the point of view expressed by Labrador Wednesday, in which he insists that exchanging a fully functioning federal government for a one-year delay in Obamacare is a situation in which "both sides were giving on something." (By the way, everyone who viewed this matter with any amount of logic saw this move as one that simply set up another confrontation over Obamacare and a potential government shutdown one year from now -- the obviousness of this tactic was what led the Senate to reject it.)
Now, is saying that the House GOP "never asked for a full repeal of Obamacare," as Labrador maintained a mite disingenuous? Of course. "Defund" versus "repeal" is essentially a distinction without much difference. For all practical purposes, "defunding" Obamacare effectively ends it.
But as a purely technical distinction, Labrador is in the clear. You just have to shut off parts of your brain and stare at it with your peripheral vision to see it.
Elise Foley contributed reporting to this post.
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