The Republican Party's 'Defund Obamacare' Disorder
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com/Christian Delbert
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The Republican party is not in a good place right now. They are historically unpopular (particularly House Republicans); they have no discernible governing agenda; they are under assault from their own supporters; they continue to say stupid things that upset key voting groups … and – guess what? – things are about to get even worse.
Case in point: the ongoing GOP obsession with Obamacare.
It's now been three and half years since the legislation was signed into law; more than a year since it was upheld by the US supreme court, and nearly 10 months since Mitt Romney, running on a pledge to repeal it, was defeated in the 2012 presidential election. Yet, rather than accept the reality of Obamacare, the GOP's effort to ensure that millions of Americans are prevented from receiving healthcare coverage and remain forever mired in financial and personal anxiety because of their lack of insurance continues unabated.
How to accomplish that, of course, is the hard part – particularly since Democrats control the Senate and the bill's namesake is sitting in the Oval Office. Indeed, because of this political reality, Republicans have appeared lately to be putting aside their strategy of shutting down the federal government in October unless Obamacare is defunded.
But don't pop those champagne corks too soon. Instead, they are now debating the idea of refusing to raise the debt limit in return for a White House agreement to "delay" implementing Obamacare. This is the political equivalent of "we're not going to hold our breath until we turn blue and collapse now; instead, we're going to wait a few additional weeks and then we're going to hold our breath until we turn blue and collapse."
Now, granted, if the GOP wants to knock themselves out (literally), who are we, as non-crazy and rational people, to stop them? Knock yourself out, GOP!
The problem, however, is that while shutting down the government would be bad for the country and disastrous for the GOP, it's not the desired political Armageddon. Refusing to raise the debt limit – well, that's something else altogether. So, instead of holding its breath, collapsing and perhaps suffering a nasty cut, the GOP would prefer to hold its breath, collapse and fall on a plunger – a la Alec Guinness in Bridge on the River Kwai – and blow up the whole goddamn bridge. (In this analogy, the bridge is a stand-in for the US economy.)
In fact, it's hard to imagine a greater self-inflicted wound that Congress could impose on the nation than not raising debt limit. It would put at risk the full faith and credit of the United States and do grievous harm to the US economy.
The GOP's new "defund Obamacare" strategy actually increases this terrifying possibility. By avoiding a government shutdown in October, Republicans will dodge the immediate political minefield of their own making. But at the same time, if Republicans agree to pass a budget and keep the government up-and-running (while getting nothing in return from the White House), it will further increase the pressure on the Republican leadership of Speaker John Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell to get something, anything, out of the White House when the debt limit ceiling needs to be raised.
The problem, of course, is that the President Obama has made clear he has no intention of negotiating over the debt limit – a mistake he made in the summer of 2011 that he dares not repeat again. That immovable obstacle makes the GOP's efforts to defund Obamacare a largely fruitless exercise.