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GOP Divides On Whether To Shut Down The Government Over Obamacare Funding

July 29, 2013

By Avik Roy

Last week, Utah Sen. Mike Lee (R.) sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.), “informing Senator Reid that we will not vote for a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare,” risking a government shutdown if Lee’s objectives are not achieved. While eleven other Senate Republicans have signed on to Lee’s letter, other Republicans are denouncing the move in surprisingly direct language. “It’s not an achievable strategy…and it’s dishonest,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.). “It’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard of,” added Sen. Richard Burr (R., N.C.). It’s worth understanding why conservatives like Lee are advocating this strategy, and why others are opposing him.

Lee: Sept. 30 is ‘our last opportunity to defund Obamacare’

Most observers—myself included—believe that it will be very difficult to repeal Obamacare after the law is fully implemented. Democrats know this, and Republicans know this. That’s why the White House is working hard to convince as many people as possible to sign up for Obamacare-sponsored health insurance, and why many Republicans are resisting that effort.

Sen. Lee and his compadres see things the same way. “We’re now approaching the last stop on the train before Obamacare kicks in with full force and fury,” Lee said in an interview last week. “Sept. 30, when the continuing resolution [to fund the government] expires…that will be our last opportunity to defund Obamacare.”

For many conservatives, there is a critical corollary to this view: that market-oriented health reform is impossible so long as Obamacare remains law. In other words, if Obamacare isn’t repealed or defunded before the end of the year, market-oriented reform is hopeless.

There is another approach to market-based health reform

In a famous scene in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Obi-Wan Kenobi despairs of Luke Skywalker’s progress as a Jedi knight-in-training. “That boy is our last hope,” says Obi-Wan. “No,” replies Yoda, dean of the Jedi. “There is another.”

It’s understandable that conservatives worry about the future of market-based health reform under Obamacare. The law doubles down on the worst features of our current system. It expands Medicaid, the worst health-care program in the developed world. It forces large- and mid-sized employers to sponsor health coverage for their workers, despite the fact that employer-sponsored coverage suppresses choice and competition. The law undermines the most market-oriented aspects of the Medicare program, instead expanding its command-and-control features.

Nonetheless, it’s not true that there is no future for market-based reform under Obamacare. Indeed, a substantially reformed version of Obamacare’s health insurance exchanges could bring market-based reform to the entire U.S. health care system, including Medicare and Medicaid.

For conservatives who believe otherwise—that Obamacare represents a permanent lurch in the direction of government-run health care—it makes sense to launch one last charge against the law. “I understand that there are some in the Washington establishment…who aren’t happy with me over this. In this instance, I’m going to take that as a compliment, an indication that I’m doing something right,” Lee told Fox News Sunday.

Co-signers of Sen. Lee’s letter include Senate Republicans Marco Rubio (Fla.), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Jim Risch (Idaho), Rand Paul (Ky.), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), David Vitter (La.), John Thune (S.D.), Jeffrey Chiesa (N.J.), Mike Enzi (Wyo.), Debra Fischer (Nebr.), and Chuck Grassley (Iowa).

Five other senators—including John Cornyn (Tex.), Roger Wicker (Miss.), and Mark Kirk (Ill.)—had signed the letter, but have since reneged.

Coburn: Shutdown ‘is a good way for Republicans to lose the House’

It’s telling that many of Lee’s co-signers weren’t in Congress the last time that we endured a shutdown of the federal government, in 1995-96. That time, it was Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton who couldn’t come to agreement as to how to fund the government.

In the end, it was Clinton who emerged politically victorious from the skirmish; Congressional Republicans, scarred by the experience, spent the next decade increasing federal spending by as much, if not more, than Democratic Congresses previously had.

Republicans with long memories have spoken out against the Lee plan. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, one of Congress’ fiercest opponents of wasteful government spending, told Byron York that the Lee approach was “dishonest” and “terribly dangerous.”

Coburn’s beef is that Democrats will never go along with fully defunding Obamacare via the September 30 continuing resolution. “I’d love to defund it,” he said. “I’d be leading the charge if I thought this would work. But it will not work.”

Coburn argues that Lee and his cohort are setting unrealistic expectations for conservative voters. “The worst thing is being dishonest with your base about what you can accomplish, ginning everybody up and then creating disappointment,” says Coburn. “It’s a terribly dangerous and not successful strategy. You’re going to set an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve. It’s not an achievable strategy. It’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t.”

Coburn goes further, arguing that Lee is being disingenuous. “It’s dishonest…The President is never going to sign a bill defunding Obamacare. Do you think he’s going to cave? The strategy that has been laid out is a good way for Republicans to lose the House…Creating false expectations and being less than honest about how you’re going to do this is the worst of politics…I’m getting phone calls from Oklahoma saying, ‘Support Mike Lee,’ and I’m ramming right back: Support him in destroying the Republican Party?”

Coburn also argues that threatening to shut down the government over Obamacare will put at risk the real spending cuts that Republicans achieved with the Budget Control Act of 2011, the so-called sequester. “The one thing that we have achieved is that we have actually cut discretionary spending through sequestration and the Budget Control Act,” says Coburn. “That’s one thing we’ve done great for the country, and you’re going to put that at risk trying to achieve something that is impossible for us to achieve.”

Obamacare isn’t ready for prime time

Despite the heated rhetoric from both sides, Lee implied in his Fox News Sunday interview that he is considering an alternative to a government shutdown: delaying Obamacare’s subsidies by one year. “Maybe we can’t repeal [Obamacare] right now, but we can delay its funding. And if we can delay it, we can stop its consequences, at least for now. And we have to do it.”

Delaying the implementation of Obamacare is not the same thing as fully defunding it. And given all of the logistical difficulties involved with getting the law’s exchanges set up on time, the success of the law would be well-served by a one-year delay. Without a delay, the implementation of the law harbors substantial potential for waste, fraud, and abuse.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Congressional Republicans to adopt a one-year delay of Obamacare’s subsidies as their favored approach to the September 30 budget deadline. It has the effect of reducing the budget deficit in the near-term, while keeping Obamacare intact over the long-term. It’s not fully satisfying to repeal-or-bust conservatives, but it’s something that Republicans could be more successful at persuading the public to support. As always, time will tell.

Original Source:



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