Politics & Policy

Obamacare Marches On

What are Republicans doing to stop it? Not much.

For the second time this month, Congress has passed a short-term continuing resolution and avoid a government shutdown. And for the second time, this was accomplished at the cost of dropping a provision that would have prevented the use of government funds to implement Obamacare. It raises the question, then, of just how committed the Republican leadership really is to killing Obamacare.

It is worth remembering that House Republicans did not include the cutoff in health-care funding as part of their original CR proposal. It was added as an amendment after a mini-rebellion by House conservatives. And the leadership was quick to jettison it at the first sign of Democratic objection. Now it appears that House Republican leaders have blinked yet again.

Apparently it is more important to keep the government open than to stand up against the most massive threat to limited government and individual liberty in recent history.

In fact, one wonders what the Republican leadership is doing to stop Obamacare. Sure, they took a vote to repeal it. But since there was no chance that a repeal bill could get through the Senate and past a presidential veto, the vote was mostly symbolic. Since then, what have Republicans done? There was another vote calling for various committees to propose an alternative health-care reform. Where is it? Where are the votes on proposals to kill some of the more unpopular aspects of the health-care law? What about the individual mandate? The employer mandate? The new taxes? What about CLASS Act, the long-term care program? Even Secretary Sebelius says that it won’t work as currently structured. Why has there been no vote to repeal that?

Cutting off funding for Obamacare now is all the more important because the administration is pushing full speed ahead on implementation. And the sad fact is that Obama is all too often being aided by Republicans.

Every Republican governor except Alaska’s Sean Parnell and Florida’s Rick Scott have accepted federal grant money to begin implementing the program. This includes rumored presidential candidates Haley Barbour and Mitch Daniels, and even conservative icon Chris Christie. Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty also accepted Obamacare funding before he left office. Given a choice between “free” federal money and standing up against big government, the money wins every time.

Republican governors and Republican state legislators are also moving ahead to set up state insurance exchanges, as required under the new law. Admittedly, the states face a Hobson’s choice on the issue: If they fail to act, the federal government will set up an exchange for them, anyway, one that will likely be more costly and bureaucratic than the one they would design for themselves.

But what the Obama administration realizes is that the faster implementation goes forward, and the more the program snakes its tentacles throughout the health-care system, the harder it will be to repeal. And, for all those hoping that the Supreme Court might strike down the law, or at least its individual mandate, the justices (especially Justice Kennedy, who will likely be the pivotal vote) will also take note of whether structures and reliance have been built up around it.

In fact, in granting the government a stay of his ruling holding Obamacare unconstitutional, Judge Vinson pointed out that the plaintiff’s motion to deny the stay “is undercut by the fact that at least eight of the plaintiff states . . . have represented that they will continue to implement and fully comply with the Act’s requirements . . . irrespective of my ruling.”

This is why the Obama administration has opposed expedited review of the court rulings on the bill’s constitutionality. Time is on Obamacare’s side.

The Republican leadership will undoubtedly claim that the CR is a good deal, because it cuts another $6 billion in spending in exchange for keeping the government open for another three weeks. This keeps Republicans on track toward their goal of trimming this year’s $3.46 trillion federal budget by $61 billion. It boldly defunds the Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission and the Labor Department’s Career Pathways Innovation Fund.

But Obamacare is not just another bill. It fundamentally alters not just the U.S. health-care system but the entire relationship between the government and the American people. Should we really celebrate a Congress that kills the Lincoln Bicentennial but preserves Obamacare?

If Republicans don’t stand up this time, when will they?

— Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of Leviathan on the Right: How Big-Government Conservatism Brought Down the Republican Revolution.

Michael TannerMr. Tanner is the director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Poverty and Inequality in California and the author of The Inclusive Economy: How to Bring Wealth to America’s Poor.


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