With another government shutdown looming, it's worth revisiting the last one.
Recall, in 2013, when Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) damned the torpedoes in a misbegotten, but ultimately harmless, effort to defund ObamaCare. Everyone knew how it would end: The public would blame Republicans, who would subsequently capitulate, and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act would continue apace.
So let it be stipulated: The Cruz-engineered shutdown was tactically dumb.
But was he wrong on substance? Not really.
In a July 2013 speech at the Western Conservative Summit, the Texan warned: "On Jan. 1, the exchanges kick in and the subsidies kick in. Once those kick in, it's going to prove almost impossible to undo ObamaCare. The administration's plan is very simple: Get everyone addicted to the sugar so that ObamaCare remains a permanent feature of our society."
Set aside Cruz's tendentious characterization of ACA premium support as "sugar." Wasn't he right that ObamaCare — that is, a financial commitment by the federal government to ensure broad access to health insurance — would become a "permanent feature of our society" if it were implemented?
President Trump and the GOP Congress just spent the better part of 2017 falling all over themselves trying to repeal and replace — or skinnily repeal and sorta replace at a later date — ObamaCare. They failed spectacularly. The reason they failed was simple: The idea of taking away health coverage, or money people use to buy health coverage, is enormously unpopular!
Ted Cruz was right. Once Americans get hooked on a benefit, it is all but impossible to take that benefit away.
Which prompts us to recall another lawmaker who was proved right about ObamaCare: Nancy Pelosi. Google the words "Pelosi" and "ObamaCare." You'll find all manner of contemporaneous commentary about the then-House speaker's remark that "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." At the time — 2010; lordy, how long ago it seems — the conservative infotainment complex pounced on Pelosi's words as an unintentional confession that she and other Democrats were unfamiliar with the contents of the Affordable Care Act. In context, however, it was clear Pelosi was saying that voters were being subjected to misinformation about the bill — and that they would like it once the partisan dust settled. She was saying that — follow me out on a limb here — voters would like ObamaCare once the "sugar" kicked in.
Shocking as it may seem, Pelosi and Cruz were singing different versions of the same song: Most people will conclude that they do in fact like sugar — and they won't take kindly to attempts to take it away. By April of this year, ObamaCare found favor with a majority of Americans for the first time in its existence, according to Gallup. Indeed, the law is more popular than the president, the vice president, the media, and both major parties.
None of this is to say there aren't real problems with ObamaCare, or that it's no longer under threat legislatively or administratively. There are. And it is. But despite this uncertainty, I predict that ObamaCare, in one form or another, is here to stay — just like a San Francisco liberal and a Texan right-winger told us.
Who says bipartisanship is dead?