Strategy vs. Policy in the Obamacare-Budget Debate

With October 1 quickly approaching, Republicans in the House and Senate are gearing up for a firefight to prevent Obamacare — the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — from being fully funded and implemented. Led by the House tea party coalition and Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), the faction is demanding that a budget for the next fiscal year be passed with no funding for President Obama’s landmark health care law, with no exceptions.

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By their standards, this is the final opportunity to stop the law dead in its tracks, and by placing the onus upon Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and his party to pass their legislation, the American people will place blame on them in the event that they fail to act and cause a government shutdown.

Such a strategy has brought ire from more moderate sections of the GOP and many conservative pundits and strategists, among them Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and John McCain (R-AZ), Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer, and apparently everyone at The Wall Street Journal. They argue that any legislation from the House that removes funding for Obamacare is dead on arrival, and that estimations of the public response are fanciful and naïve. It’s a debate of strategy versus policy, and it’s one that’s as old as politicking itself.

This creates a quandary that is difficult to resolve. Are the stalwarts in the “Defund” camp on the right track, or do the naysaying “detractors” have it right? It may be possible to read the tea leaves by looking at the past through the lens of the detractors’ arguments.

First, is it possible for the Republican minority in the Senate to force President Obama and the Democrats’ hand? When there was a Republican minority in both the Senate and the House in 2010, there was a successful holdout on tax increases spurred by the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. But these issues are different in one major area: the political capital on both sides that is heavily invested into the Obamacare fight. The odds of a successful filibuster change significantly in this case.

It’s also important to take into account the public’s opinion on the importance of issues, as to gauge their possible response. According to Rasmussen Reports in September 2010, 79 percent of voters considered health care to be a very important voting issue, while 58 percent considered taxes to be important. As of this month, those numbers shifted slightly to 71 percent and 55 percent, respectively. Statistically speaking, these issues are as important now as they were then. Polls also show that public support for Obamacare in general is at its lowest, with 52 percent opposing the law and 39 percent supporting it, on average.

Similarly, a Rasmussen poll shows that 53 percent favor a government shutdown until Republicans and Democrats can agree upon funding cuts for Obamacare, as opposed to passing a budget with the health law spending at its planned levels. This is in spite of the inaccurate fear campaign from President Obama and the Democrats over the course of years that warned of Social Security and Medicare cuts for the elderly and drawbacks for the military in the event of a government shutdown. During such an event, all functions not considered discretionary are continued. There have been multiple shutdowns in the past, including four during the Carter administration, six during the Reagan administration, and one during the Clinton administration, all of which were relatively short-lived and painless.

Yet, there’s still a significant disconnect between public opinion and their electoral actions. In the 2010 midterms, over 70 conservative and libertarian candidates were elected to the House on the principle that they would stop at nothing to repeal Obamacare. Results in 2012 weren’t as promising for the defunders, as President Obama comfortably won his reelection bid. Defunders might attribute this to inherent differences between midterm and general elections and the Obama campaign’s messaging tactics, while the detractors could claim that it’s evidence of a perception shift nationwide that foreshadows a poor response from the public.

All things considered objectively, it’s largely a tossup on how the battle plays out. The Defunders are taking a huge political risk in betting all their chips on one outcome, while the Detractors are hoping that their hedge against a government shutdown will bring back the praise and respect they had before the tea party revolution of 2010. All the while, President Obama and the leaders of the Democrat Party have the upper hand and can essentially dictate the narrative.

In my heart of hearts, I’m on the side of the defunders. Obamacare is a disastrous law that will only further complicate the health insurance market and thus reduce the quality of care that Americans receive, and it ought to be abolished. I’m afraid that once funding is granted, it will become an entitlement akin to Social Security or Medicare that are almost impossible to reform. I also believe that it’s extremely important that you stand on principle, even if it looks like a suicide mission.

It may be a safer bet to propose things piecemeal, like delaying the individual mandate or forcing the federal government into the system — President Obama and Congress included — as a way to prove a point. But that seems to be the only thing that the right has been able to do since regaining power in Washington. They can prove a point, but they can’t seem to effectively make a difference and roll back what the Pelosi-led Democratic majority put into place. This may be the perfect time to stand and fight, no matter the consequences. What do we have to lose?

Content published on the Young Americans for Liberty blog is only representative of the opinions and research of the individual authors. It does not necessarily reflect the views, goals, or membership of YAL.

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