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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

House Republicans Have Hurt their Chance to Defund Obamacare

From former Congressman Ernest Istook via Washington Times -- 

WASHINGTON, October 2, 2013 — Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives may have painted themselves into a corner. They evidently will settle for symbolism to end the ongoing government slowdown. That would leave virtually all of Obamacare intact and more difficult than ever to defund or repeal.

The most-recent House vote lowered the GOP’s demand significantly. The original vote (Plan A) coupled funding for the rest of government with a defunding of Obamacare. The second vote late Sunday night (Plan B) offered to fund all of government in exchange for two things: a) a one-year delay in the individual mandate, plus b) enforcement of the requirement that Congress get its own insurance through Obamacare.

By lowering their goals voluntarily, the GOP has reduced the chance that they will accomplish anything substantive rather than symbolic regarding Obamacare.

Rather than accepting Plan B, the White House is standing back while the media trashes and blames Republicans for what is called a shutdown. (Huge parts of “essential” government remain on-the-job, so” slowdown” is a term that fits much better.) When Obama figures he’s gathered enough election year ammunition, he could pivot. Posturing as magnanimous, Obama would need only minor negotiations to close a deal along the lines of Plan B.

The House essentially has backed down to a mostly-symbolic demand. Under Plan B Obamacare continues to get all its money. Obamacare’s exchanges would still provide coverage, but purchases would be voluntary the first year rather than mandatory. The lighter load of customers would give breathing room for the system that was overwhelmed by the torrent of inquiries on its first day.

Some political gurus will claim that delaying the individual mandate makes it easier to go after the rest of Obamacare. To the contrary, it makes it harder to attack the rest of the law. Plus there already are reports that a dozen or so House Republicans are ready to back down now and support a “clean” funding bill that leaves Obamacare totally alone.

The House’s Plan B permits the vast majority of Obamacare to march ahead unimpeded. After one year the individual and employer mandates would both be back and would be as deadly as ever to companies, workers and our economy. Under Plan B, the problems with the mandates would disappear from public attention—driven undercover for a year rather than being publicized as they are now.

Any time that one segment of major legislation is revised, it protects the surviving portions by reducing the demand for change. Carving out the individual mandate and letting it stay in place (even though delayed a year) lessens the pressure to deal with the rest of Obamacare.

Insurance companies would object to a one-year delay because they want the guaranteed source of new Obamacare customers. Obama’s bureaucrats might create an offset or they might tell insurers to buzz off, just as they’ve so far stiffed some labor union allies.

Thanks to the one-year moratorium, Obamacare would essentially be vaccinated and protected from further attack. That means, for example, that these other provisions would no longer have significant opposion:
  • Historical forms of private insurance would be outlawed.
  • The provisions of Obamacare would become locked-in for all insurance policies and would continue to be a major cause of skyrocketing premiums (due to guaranteed issue, no pre-existing conditions, etc.).
  • The tax would remain on medical devices.
  • Employers would still be intimidated by the delayed-but-still-coming mandate on them. They would continue the trend of shifting full-time workers into part-time jobs and holding part-timers below 30 hours a week.

It would become harder than ever to repeal or defund Obamacare if the President and Senate Democrats accepted the House’s Plan B. The President would proclaim he’d compromised enough. The wind would go out of the sails for many champions of the repeal-or-defund effort.

How about the Plan B provision that Congress must get its coverage through Obamacare? Expect to see backdoor maneuvers such as raising staff salaries to compensate for higher costs. For Representatives and Senators, there’s also another avenue. They would increase their use of the boutique health care they receive through the Office of the Attending Physician in the Capitol Building, plus special care through Bethesda Naval Hospital (now combined with Walter Reed).

The Senate might insist that the House go it alone in living under Obamacare. That’s because only one-third of the Senators must face the voters in 2014 (or any election year). Thanks to six-year terms, they enjoy insulation from the public’s wishes.

Once Obama’s team feel the press has pounded Republicans enough, they could posture as heroes rescuing the nation from heartless Republicans. They would use that theme constantly in the 2014 campaigns. By claiming already to have compromised on Obamacare, the White House could insist the law is now off the table, including a refusal to address it during negotiations over an increase in the debt ceiling.

By dropping back to a weaker position, without any concesssions from Obama, House Republicans have undercut their own position. Maybe Obama’s stubborn narcissism will prevent him from taking the deal. Or maybe he’s just waiting for the right moment.

In any event, the Plan B put forth from the House GOP won’t help defund or repeal Obamacare. In all likelihood, they’ve made those goals even more difficult to reach.

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