Updated: September 7, 2013 6:15AM
Health care in America has long cost too much and delivered too little. Some anti-ObamaCare Republicans in Congress seem to think that’s an applause line.
In a move even some of their own party leaders are calling dumb, members of the Tea Party wing are threatening to shut down the government after Sept. 30 unless Democrats agree to strip out all funding for the Affordable Care Act, also known as ObamaCare.
Of course, they don’t phrase it that way. Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), who is helping to spearhead the effort, says it will be the Democrats’ fault. As Lee puts it, the Democrats can either fund the government or shut it down to save ObamaCare. That ignores the fact that, under this scenario, it will be Republicans who vote to withhold the funding the government needs to operate.
ObamaCare has been unpopular among Republicans from Day 1. They fought it in the House, forced the Senate to pass it with a supermajority and backed an unsuccessful legal appeal that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Since then, the Republican-controlled House has voted to repeal, defund or trim back the law 40 times, most recently on Friday before Congress went on vacation.
Now, many top Republicans are worried a government shutdown could blow up in their faces. Pragmatic Republican governors are criticizing the idea, as are many of their counterparts in Congress. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said it could hurt the party among key voting blocs. U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) called it a “temper tantrum.” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called it “the dumbest idea I ever heard.”
Even Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman, said his party would be better off finding some other way to delay and replace ObamaCare.
The Tea Party Republicans are drawing a line in the sand because, as Sen. Lee said, “it’s the last opportunity” to stop ObamaCare. The deadline for states to set up health insurance exchanges is Oct. 1. By Jan. 1, most people will be required to have insurance.
If the health-care law turns out to be the fiasco opponents predict after that, there will be no need to threaten to shut down government anymore. The Affordable Care Act will unravel on its own. But truth is, as Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said, Republicans are afraid ObamaCare will succeed, building its own constituency among people who acquire previously unattainable health insurance and others who already had insurance but find the law is not the catastrophe they’d been told to expect. Bye-bye to a hot-button issue for the 2014 midterm elections.
The elephant in the room is that Republicans never have advanced their own plausible plan to help the more than 50 million Americans who lack health insurance and the many millions more who have insurance but fear they could lose it through no fault of their own. Those people deserve more than a shrug of the shoulders. It’s a gaping hole in our current system that ObamaCare is designed to address.
Shutting down government would undermine our economy, club the financial markets and leave us once again wondering how well we govern ourselves as a nation. Terry Branstad, the Republican governor of Iowa, said Americans are tired of the gridlock and fighting in Washington. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said “most Americans are really tired of these kinds of shenanigans.”
And they know whom to blame.
With any luck, what we’re seeing here is a shift in Republican thinking away from mindless brinkmanship and toward good-faith compromise.