The Corner

Are Republicans Forcing Obama to Go Around Congress?

Yesterday’s announcement regarding an “administrative fix” for Americans’ canceled health-care plans has prompted a new outbreak of a common refrain, that President Obama has no other choice than to use extra-legal executive actions to repair his health-care law.

For example, the New York Times reported today that Obama “is battling a Republican opposition that has refused to open the door to any legislative fixes to the health-care law.”

Of course, that story was published on the very day Republicans are bringing a bill to the House floor that addresses canceled plans. It may not be Democrats’ preferred approach, but surely the bill – which is two pages long and deals only with allowing people to purchase insurance plans that do not meet Obamacare’s minimum standards – counts as “opening the door” to a targeted fix of the law.

The issue has come up earlier as well: In explaining why he used an executive action to delay the employer mandate, something the president has no clear authority to do, Obama said the House GOP tied his hands.

“In a normal political environment, it would have been easier for me to simply call up the speaker and say, you know what, this is a tweak that doesn’t go to the essence of the law . . . But we’re not in a normal atmosphere around here when it comes to ‘Obamacare,’” he said.

When Obama uttered those words on August 9, it was 23 days after the House had passed a bill doing exactly what he said he could not get Republicans to agree to legislatively (delay the employer mandate).

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner, says neither Obama nor congressional Democrats have ever approached House leadership asking for help on a targeted fix of the law, a step one might consider taking before saying it would be impossible to work with Republicans.

So I put the question to Democratic representative Gerald Connolly, of Virginia: Democrats insist they can’t get Republicans to go along with what they consider “constructive” fixes to the law – even as Republicans have championed, and in a small number of cases, helped enact, all manner of targeted changes — but have they really tried?

That set off Connolly, who is normally quite genial to reporters (including, on past occasions, me). He launched into a tirade about how “dishonest” the question was, asking “what planet have you been living on?” (Listen to the audio here.)

“Why would I honor that question even with a serious response? To ask that question is to presuppose nothing over the past five years has happened,” Connolly said. 

Republicans have exhibited “nothing but bad faith,” he went on. “They made it clear and explicit. Remember Jim DeMint? ‘Defeating Obamacare will be his Waterloo.’ They’ve challenged it in the courts. They’ve had bill after bill after bill to defund it. Forty-six of them. They shut down the government. Maybe you forgot, it was just last month. For 16 days. On this issue. So I’m supposed to believe they’re sincere in wanting to just make it better? And you want to criticize the president because he’s supposed to be stupid enough to go to them hat in hand and trust them? That’s your question?”

I ask Connolly what exactly would happen if Obama did go to Boehner and ask for a targeted, “constructive” fix. “They would jump all over it as a failure and ‘there are so many failures’ and . . . they aren’t ever going to play fair on this. And you know why? Because they’re terrified it will work,” he replied.

As Connolly continued to berate me for daring to ask such a terrible question (“I’m stunned at your question, actually”), it occurred to me the Obamacare debate has really started to get under Democrats’ skin.

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