“If success depends on convincing senators in the Republican cloakroom, it will not work because far too many are afraid of the electoral consequences.”
That was Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Tex.) take on a Senate Republican push to defund the health care law before it fully goes into effect in 2014. The legislation will cost $710 billion from through 2019 alone, including a massive expansion of Medicaid and insurance subsidies via the state exchanges.
By the time it is fully implemented, it will cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion — every decade. But, the taxpayers won’t have enough to cover the entitlement, so it will be borrowed, at interest, for perpetuity.
Yet the true cost will be felt by millions of Americans caught in the individual mandate compelling the purchase of health insurance they can no longer afford. It will be felt by those unable to find full-time work because the law compels businesses to slash hours below 30 a week to avoid the employer mandate.
It will be felt by hundreds of thousands of unemployed young people with tens of thousands of student loan debt who will not qualify for Medicaid and will be forced to pay fines under the individual mandate.
That is why Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) has joined with Cruz recently starting the DontFundIt.com website to gather signatures from regular Americans to demand that Congress act to gut the law by cutting off its funds.
The push would stop implementation by prohibiting funds to be used by agencies and departments in implementing the law’s provisions, and by amending the existing statute to roll back the expansion of Medicaid and the introduction of insurance subsidies under the exchanges.
But the only way it will work is if House and Senate Republicans insist on attaching such a measure to must-pass legislation such as the continuing resolution or the debt ceiling. In their letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Lee and Cruz warn they “will not support any continuing resolution or appropriations legislation that funds further implementation or enforcement of Obamacare.”
For some reason, however, this effort is not being supported by Senate or House Republican leadership. Whatever their good intentions in attempting to repeal the law, they appear more than willing to fund it.
The GOP establishment is being cheered on by the likes of Karl Rove, Larry Kudlow, and Bloomberg.com contributor and National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru. Perhaps they just believe the strategy will not work. In a Bloomberg column, Ponnuru blasts the Lee-Cruz plan as being futile.
“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,” Ponnuru wrote.
Of course, he ignores the recent history of government shutdowns and debt ceiling standoffs. When House Speaker Newt Gingrich used government shutdowns in the 1990s, the result was balanced budgets.
When House Speaker John Boehner used the debt ceiling in 2011 to extract spending cuts from the Obama Administration, the result was sequestration.
When President Ronald Reagan and Congressional Democrats could not agree on a budget in 1981, a brief government shutdown resulted in a compromise that cut spending around the edges.
One finds a track record of remarkable success in favor of the government shutdown model to actually achieving reform in Washington, D.C. And one finds absolutely no success in the model apparently preferred by Ponnuru, which is to do nothing. He believes that should Republicans roll back Obamacare, they have to “replace” it with some other big government scheme, as if the private health system that was in place just a few short years ago was an untenable alternative.
Yet, Ponnuru believes Republicans will lose a shutdown battle: “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.”
In short, Republicans will face electoral consequences in 2014 if they shut down the government to defund Obamacare. But even if that were true, the odds of achieving something significant on rolling back the health care law shoot up dramatically with a shutdown. If they do nothing, nothing will assuredly be the outcome.
At some point this minimalist approach to governing favored by Republicans, Ponnuru, et al. no longer is “do no harm” — it borders on pure cowardice. It winds up being “do no good,” a complete unwillingness to fight for anything.
With leaders like these, Obamcare will become as permanent as every other government program Republicans swore they opposed and then did nothing to get rid of. The Lee-Cruz strategy may be the only way.
So, it’s defund Obamacare, or bust.
Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.