Feature

The GOP: Shutting down the government to stop Obamacare

Republicans are “testing a new frontier of radicalism” in a last-ditch effort to block the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP has hated the Affordable Care Act from the moment President Obama proposed it, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. But with most of Obamacare’s key provisions soon to take effect, desperate Republicans are “testing a new frontier of radicalism” in a last-ditch effort to block the law. As of Oct. 1, the government will be unable to pay its debts unless Congress first votes to raise the federal debt ceiling, and last week a group of GOP senators joined colleagues in the House in vowing not to raise the debt ceiling unless the president agrees to defund—in effect, repeal—the ACA. Even for a party that’s been “careering ever more deeply into ideological extremism,” this threat to wreck the economy and America’s credit rating marks a frightening new low. In fact, such hostage-taking by congressional leaders has no precedent in our history, said Norm Ornstein in National Journal. Obamacare is the law of the land. The bill was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, upheld by the Supreme Court, and effectively re-affirmed by voters in the 2012 election. For the losers of that election to now demand that the ACA be killed anyway or they’ll shut down the government is “contemptible”—a defiant insult to democracy itself.

“No, it’s not,” said Stephen Hayes in WeeklyStandard.com. The Senate effort to defund the ACA is being led by freshmen Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Marco Rubio, who along with dozens of House members were specifically “sent to Washington to derail Obamacare” by voters in the 2010 midterms. What those voters knew is what anyone “with basic math skills” knows: that you can’t extend health insurance coverage to 30 million more people while at the same time improving the quality of care and lowering costs. They also rightfully object to the creation of a vast new federal bureaucracy that will erode their liberty. “If ever there were a time for being aggressive, it’s now.”

As bad as Obamacare is likely to be, threatening to shut down the government “will backfire” on Republicans, said Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg.com. The probability of President Obama surrendering and scrapping his signature legislative achievement “approaches zero percent,” regardless of the threat. If a shutdown actually took place, the public “would almost certainly blame Republicans” for the ensuing crisis, and punish them in the 2014 midterm elections. Besides, said Peter Suderman in Reason.com,no one really believes the defunding threat would work—not party leaders, and not even the authors of the threat. Republicans are just desperate for a cause to rally their factions around, but blocking Obamacare isn’t it, since Republicans “can offer no real alternative of their own”—in fact, no coherent policy on health care at all.

But even if we can’t block the rollout of Obamacare’s insurance exchanges in 2014, said William Kristol in The Weekly Standard, we can make a principled stand. If Obamacare’s going to be a “train wreck” for the nation, then surely Republicans have a duty to try to “stop the train,” regardless of the political cost. Well, there you have it, said Jon Favreau in TheDailyBeast.com. Republicans are so frightened that Obama’s reform of our broken health-care system will prove that government can be “an effective force for good,” that they’ll do anything—including wreck the economy and damage their own, already-tarnished standing with voters—to stop it. The party of “small government” is rapidly devolving into the party of “no government.”

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