Will the Grand Obstruction Party hold Obamacare hostage?


    Brace yourself. The dominant crazies in the GOP are chewing the carpet again.

    Their latest desperate plot to stop Obamacare violates the norms of rational governance – which is no surprise, given their ideological aversion to governance. Basically, they’re threatening to trigger a government shutdown on Oct. 1 unless the Obama administration waves the white flag and agrees not to implement the health reform law. Alternatively, they might gin up another debt ceiling crisis, warning Obama that unless he surrenders on health reform, they’ll refuse to raise the government’s borrowing limit and thus impede its ability to pay its bills.

    This hostage-taking tactic constitutes a new low in scorched-earth obstructionism. They lost the Obamacare debate in Congress, they lost it at the ballot box, and they lost it in the Supreme Court…so apparently the only thing left to do is strap on a bomb and detonate.

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    Sen. Mike Lee, a tea-partying Utah Republican, has persuaded 15 of his brethren (including several members of the GOP leadership) to sign a letter vowing to turn off the lights on Oct. 1 unless Obamacare is speedily defunded. As Lee declared Monday, in the friendly confines of Fox News, “This is the last stop before Obamacare fully kicks in on Jan. 1 of next year for us to refuse to fund it.”

    His colleague Ted Cruz, the tea-partying Texan, goes even further. He’s floating a bill that would bar any funding of Obamacare in all future budgets, and top GOPers, including Mitch McConnell, have signed on. Most of the Senate’s Republicans have climbed aboard the Cruz missle because the right-wing litmus-test groups have demanded they do so. And on the House side, Speaker John Boehner is having his usual headaches; at last count, 64 of his extremists have signed a letter demanding that he refuse to fund the health reform law.

    Roots of craziness

    So here’s the gist of the GOP’s current mentality: In order to prevent the richest nation on earth from insuring 50 million citizens in need, in order to prevent America from offering fundamental benefits that are taken for granted in the rest of the western world, in order to sabotage a duly-enacted law and thus expose as many as 112 million people with pre-existing health woes to the whims of the insurance companies, Republicans are willing to crash the government and the economy.

    Lucky for them, that sordid ‘tude doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

    How come they’re acting so crazy? For starters, they hate Obama (20 years ago, when the conservative Heritage Foundation proposed private-run health reform and a coverage requrement, GOPers were fine with it; but when Obama champions the same provisions, they recoil). Secondly, the right-wing interest groups are demanding fealty to Obama hatred (any 2014 incumbent who dares to deviate will risk a right-wing primary challenge). Thirdly – and no Republican will ever say this aloud – they’re terrified that if Obamacare is implemented and actually works, that Democrats will get the credit and reap the rewards at the ballot box for years to come.

    As health care expert Jonathan Cohn points out, the GOP has grown more desperate as the clock ticks down to full implementation: “Once Americans can take advantage of the law’s benefits – once more low-income people become eligible for Medicaid, and once more low- and middle-income people start to get subsidies that will help them buy private insurance – taking those benefits away will be nearly impossible, particularly since Republicans still haven’t proposed an alternative that would come close to providing the same level of security.”

    No alternative. Indeed, Obama called out the Republicans in his economic speech yesterday: “If you think you have a better plan for making sure every American has the security of quality, affordable health care, stop taking meaningless repeal votes” – at last count, 39 – “and share your concrete ideas with the country.”

    Obama isn’t wildly popular these days, but he’s solid when compared to the GOP. In the latest bipartisan NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, 56 percent of Americans say the congressional GOP is “too inflexible” in its dealings with Obama. Only 22 percent say the GOP is interested in bipartisanship; 45 percent say that about Obama. By a margin of 51-45 percent, Americans say the GOP should stop trying to block Obamacare and instead try its best to implement it. And the GOP fares even worse in another new poll, sponsored by the National Journal and United Technologies: only 36 percent of Americans support outright repeal.

    “Unacceptable, even contemptible”

    Fortunately, some Republicans seem willing to step back from the brink. John McCain (who apparently wants to end his career on a sane note) said this week on the radio that it’s nuts to target Obamacare by holding the debt ceiling hostage. In his words, “That’s not going to happen….Most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.” (Of course, McCain can afford to talk rationally. He has no worries about a right-wing challenger, because he’s not on the ballot in ’14. On the other hand, he remembers which party got blamed for shutting down the government in 1995.)

    And to truly understand the exteme nature of these Republican shenanigans, you need to hear from Norman Ornstein, a scholar who has tracked Congress for four decades from his perch at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. He says that the threat to take Obamacare hostage at budget time is “sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.”

    Indeed, for the Republicans “to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation – which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil – is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.”

    What he said.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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