Obamacare: Defund or Delay? | Citizens Against Government Waste

Obamacare: Defund or Delay?

The WasteWatcher

Before the 113th Congress left town in early August for their five-week “summer recess,” they kicked yet another can down the road.  On the one hand, it wasn’t time-sensitive enough that action couldn’t wait until their return on September 9.  On the other, because of the hoopla surrounding it before their departure, they left themselves open to potential criticism when facing their constituents back home over the break.

The issue: a drive by a handful of conservatives to force a vote to de-fund (not just repeal) the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), known more colloquially—by both defenders and detractors—as Obamacare.  First of all, why not repeal?  Because there is no reasonable expectation that, assuming such a measure could pass the Senate, it would ever be signed into law by the president whose name it bears (even if only informally) and for whom it is a crowning (indeed, generational) achievement.  Secondly, proponents can appeal to lower-information voters by arguing that “it is already the law of the land.”  In other words, why would Republicans re-litigate it, especially with virtually no chance of ultimate enactment, at least during the current administration?

Instead, and before the law is finally scheduled to enter into force in FY2014 (which actually begins some five weeks from now), conservatives are making a last-ditch effort to scuttle a law that they firmly believe will do much more harm than good.  They see this opportunity in the annual appropriations process, during which the Congress (theoretically) funds the various aspects of government through twelve bills in each chamber, passed and reconciled by both, before the president signs the funding bills into law on or before September 30.


In recent times, the appropriators in either chamber have been unable to complete all or most of their respective tasks before the fiscal year’s end.  In order to keep the government running into the new year, the Congress has instead passed continuing resolutions (CRs) for those portions not completed under regular order.  In many instances, this was not a bad outcome:  appropriations were continued, without additional increase, at the previous year’s funding.  For every year that expected increases in appropriations are not realized, due to the continuation at un-inflated levels, the government actually saves money.  With the House having passed only four of its twelve bills and none from the Senate, yet another CR is likely in September.

Enter the conservatives.  They are cleverly proposing a massive CR that keeps the government open beyond September 30. Indeed, the working title of their initiative is the “Keeping the Government Open” Act.  There is only one caveat:  no funds would be expended on the implementation of Obamacare.  Thus, it would be “de-funded.”  The right’s gambit is that such a move would force the President and his Democrat cronies in the Senate to justify shutting down the government, just to preserve their prized (but failing) crown jewel.  Since the Republicans would have passed legislation to keep the government open, the blame for any shut-down would this time fall on the Democrats.

Of course, this depends on the mainstream media telling the story in that fashion.  It depends on them falling in line with the conservative communications strategy of using the “Keeping the Government Open” messaging tools.  It depends on them not blaming the Republicans for any government shutdown.

It might work.  But if it doesn’t, the Republican House (whence such a measure would have had to originate) will be cast as the obstructionists.  Likely shouldering the blame (unfairly or not), they’d be pressured to back down.  And another public relations disaster would have ensued.

Of course, if the proponents’ aim (short of actual success in de-funding Obamacare) is to force the debate (as has been suggested by Senator Rand Paul and others)—thus setting the parameters for the 2014 and 2016 elections—that’s fine, too.  But don’t be surprised – or worse, criticize your fellow Republicans – if the debate is ultimately lost, due to the realities of who holds power and where.

To date, other than “forcing the debate,” proponents of the de-funding strategy have not enlightened the rest of us on the path out of the briar-patch, should the debate go against them.

A tactic that Republicans might use much more successfully, while also dealing more blows to the much reviled healthcare law, is to increase the drumbeat for delay.  A recent report indicates that fully half of all deadlines embodied in the law have been missed—without any legislative cover for having done so.  President Obama and his administration have already extended compliance for employers.  The White House’s union buddies are pressing for concessions of their own.  Pretty soon, the only ones that will be required to comply are, well, the rest of us poor schmoes who aren’t part of some special interest group (Big Business, Big Labor, and the like).

The point being?  Delaying Obamacare, based on the easily relatable premise of basic fairness, may be a much more successful tactic than defunding it.  Certainly, the former is less philosophically pure than the latter, given that it really does just kick the can down the road until the end of any short-term delay.  But in this existential clash, it may be less important to be (perfectly) right than to live to fight another day, all the while administering more and more of the thousand cuts needed to slay the beast.

Just as Scheherezade deftly postponed her own execution for a thousand and one nights until the king’s heart was changed by her persuasive tales, Republicans may have a better chance of survival by delaying the implementation of Obamacare – perhaps until the White House is changed.

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