Opposing Obamacare: GOP’s defining issue

By Bill Schneider
October 28, 2013

After the French Revolution, the statesman and diplomat Talleyrand said of the Bourbon kings, “They learned nothing and they forgot nothing.” The same might be said of congressional Republicans after their disastrous government shutdown adventure.

Obamacare survives. That itself is something of a miracle. Look at how many near-death experiences it has been through. The loss of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 2009 deprived Democrats of the majority they needed to end a Senate filibuster. They managed to circumvent the filibuster by applying a controversial rule that allowed the bill to pass with a simple majority.

Republicans won control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 midterm election by promising to repeal Obamacare. The House has now voted 46 times — 46 times! — to repeal Obamacare, only to see the votes ignored by the Democratic Senate.

In 2012, the Affordable Care Act was upheld by the Supreme Court by a vote of five-to-four — but only after Chief Justice John Roberts defined healthcare not as a constitutional right, but as a benefit that can be taken away at any time. The court described the Affordable Care Act as a decision “entrusted to our nation’s elected leaders, who can be thrown out of office if the people disagree with them.”

This month, Republicans shut down the federal government rather than pass a budget that included funding for Obamacare. The result? A wave of public anger over Republican tactics, plus damage to the economy. Meanwhile, Obamacare is still the law.

So what have Republicans learned? Nothing. “We fought the fight. We didn’t win,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.) said. “We lived to fight another day.”

For Republicans, opposition to Obamacare has become a defining issue,  like antiwar sentiment was for Democrats during the war in Iraq. Of course, people were being killed in Iraq. But look at what Representative Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said about Obamacare: “Let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said the message to seniors is, “You’re going to die sooner. When you restrict the ability of primary caregivers in this country to do what is best for their senior patients, what you’re doing is limiting their life expectancy.”

The antiwar movement had an explicit and feasible objective: End the war. President Barack Obama got elected on a promise to do just that. And he did.

Do Republicans have any reasonable prospect of ending Obamacare? They think so — even after all those near-death experiences. They take hope from all the problems this month with the rollout of the Healthcare.gov website.

Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, put it this way to the New York Times: “If the website glitches are just the tip of the iceberg, it’s only a matter of time before the law sinks and takes with it those Democrats who wrote it, voted for it and are proud of it.”

What Republicans are trying to do is create a wave of public anger against Obamacare that will sweep the GOP into office, starting with next year’s midterm election. They want 2014 to be the reverse of 2006. In 2006, a wave of public anger over the war in Iraq swept Republicans out of power in Congress, presaged Obama’s presidential election win two years later — and ended the war. In 2014, Republicans expect a wave of public anger over Obamacare to sweep Democrats out of power in Congress, presage the election of a Republican President in 2016 — and end Obamacare.

Right now, Republicans are getting their wave of public anger, but it’s aimed largely at them. Public support for Obamacare has actually been increasing in the post-shutdown polls.

Yes, there are serious problems with the federal website, but they don’t affect most Americans. A majority of people still get health insurance from their employers, and another third get it from the government (through Medicare and Medicaid). This will not change, though Republicans warn that employers may try to avoid paying healthcare premiums by reducing workers’ hours. And 40 percent of the uninsured live in states like California, which have their own healthcare exchanges — that have been working pretty well.

Nonetheless, public awareness of problems with the federal website has been growing. Time magazine reports that 46 percent of Americans believe the exchanges are working “not too well” or “not well at all.” The administration has hired a new contractor who promises to have the federal website fixed by the end of November.

Nervous Democrats also have been pressuring the Obama administration to extend the penalty-free deadline for enrollment. The administration has now agreed to extend it for six weeks, until the end of March. Some Democrats are calling for a yearlong extension. They are clearly worried about the November 2014 midterm.

Meanwhile, Republicans are doing everything they can to publicize the problems and discourage people from signing up. The administration is aiming to have seven million people signed up by the end of 2014. The Obama administration estimates that 700,000 people have applied for private insurance plans using the federal and state exchanges, although many of them have enrolled in Medicaid, which is a public program. Republicans have started their own website where frustrated applicants can report problems with Obamacare.

Republicans in Congress have shifted strategies from trying to kill Obamacare outright to investigating problems with the new law. Does anyone really think those investigations are aimed at saving or improving the law? More likely, they are aimed at driving down public confidence.

The GOP’s political strategy here is pretty simple: Do everything possible to discourage young and healthy people from signing up for Obamacare. If the new insurance plans are dominated by the old and the sick — people who are desperate to get coverage — then insurance premiums will skyrocket. And a wave of public anger is certain to follow.

There is a name for such a strategy. It’s called sabotage.

 

PHOTO (Top): Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (R) greets attendees as he arrives to speak at the Tea Party Patriots ‘Exempt America from Obamacare’ rally on the west lawn of the Capitol in Washington, September 10, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

PHOTO (Insert): President Barack Obama watches as Todd Park (L), assistant to the president and chief technology officer, shows him information on a tablet during a meeting in the Oval Office, in this April 15, 2013 handout photograph obtained on October 24, 2013. REUTERS/Pete Souza/The White House/Handout

19 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

The most incredible hypocrisy in history. Obamacare is the same plan first proposed by the Republican Heritage Foundation in 1989 and put in rather successful practice by Mitt Romney. Now that the Democrats passed it, it suddenly becomes the worst thing ever.

The U.S. doesn’t have the best healthcare, just the most expensive.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

Obamacare will work. Just give it some time. Lots of us are waiting until the website improves.

But I always love a good “stupid-quote” from Michelle Bachmann. I can see lots of people dropping dead from having medical care rather than none at all, can’t you?

She’s someone who helps shape American policy…scary.

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive

What is the Republican alternative? Just keep doing what we have been doing? Richard Nixon proposed that every American be required to buy health insurance, back in 1970. Now all of a sudden the GOP are equating it with socialized medicine.

Posted by PeterBarlow | Report as abusive

Unfortunately it is not just healthcare, and not just the republican party. Politics in the US has degenerated into ideological warfare that has nothing to do with governing the people and everything to do with winning their arguments. The democrats have also show that they will block one thing to gain in another. Is that good for the people? How about voting on each topic as it stands? Compromise within a topic is normally good. Compromising between topics is not.
Just look at what’s about to happen with Janet Yellin.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive

Just repeating what Mr. Barlow asked above…
What do the Republicans propose as an alternative? They tear up anything the Democrats propose, but do not propose alternatives, other than keeping taxes low for their constituents.

Posted by PhilliesIn2013 | Report as abusive

Lot’s of sturm und drang from the Progressive football spikers today…

“The most incredible hypocrisy in history.” Says QuietThinker. Really? Did you just mutter that to yourself? Or did it erupt from your lips as a war cry?

Just curious about the lack of exclamation points, really…

That and how someone who has supported the genocide of 55 MILLION human beings can muster up the astounding amount of gall it takes to quietly accuse someone else of hypocrisy.

PS: Apparently Messers Barlow and Phillies2013 both seem to have forgotten that right was shut out of the debate on Obamacare very early on. If you are interested in what the right proposes feel free to your own research. Its all there in plain sight and I have no interest in educating two people so happy as they are to be thriving in the mushroom closet with the rest of the Progressives.

PPS: I love seeing Bill Schneider’s Jackass Eating Cactus grin in the morning, especially when he holds forth about the superiority of his cause. Onward Progressive Soldiers! Marching On To War! With the Flag Of Mao and Stalin Going On Before!

But I digress.

Bill thinks the Progressives got out of that fight without a scratch. He hasn’t noticed that ball and chain wrapped around the Progressives and the Rinos ankles.

Cruz did a number on you guys. You own it now. Enjoy the ride.

Posted by HamsterHerder | Report as abusive

The Republicans’ defining issue for the voters is if minority views in congress should have the ability and gull to sabotage (jam) congress or government as a whole.

As for Obama-care it is unproven, but the system before it is proven not to work good. We pay more for health care than most advanced nations and get less. Those not preexisting condition causes in policies is proof positive the sick where not provided for in the system. To people not making money in medicine, the purpose of medical systems is to treat the sick.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

What we have now is the incompetent vs. the fakers.

In the Obama corner we have people who did not think they need to put people in charge of setting up large computer systems people who have did just that.

In the Republican corner we have people who think in a democracy (dictatorship of the majority) it OK for a minority view in congress to have the ability and gull to sabotage (jam) congress or government as a whole.

Also in that corner we have supports of the old health care system which cost use more than other advanced nations pay and deliver less results. Also those no preexisting condition causes in policies is proof positive the sick where not provided for in the system. To people not making money in medicine, the purpose of medical systems is to treat the sick.

Posted by Samrch | Report as abusive

700,000 signed up in a month (with website problems). that modest level would make nearly 10 million total by end of 2014 (with a stated goal of 7 million.) not much of an argument. i’ll listen to the gop when they have an alternative (for anything) and not just b*tching you aren’t getting your way.

Posted by jcfl | Report as abusive

This “plan” is working perfectly for the progressives, it has lots of “crisis” to use as talking points and all the MSM stories are lined up to blame all failures on the republicans and tea partiers. The stupid lumpen won’t notice that everytime the “people” are injured the republicans try to mitigate it and the dems try to pour more salt on it while blaming it on the opposition. Maybe they will “wake up” or “get angry” but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Posted by gregio | Report as abusive

What is curious is how the GOP is constantly working against their own ideology in this debate. In order to protest Obamacare many states refused to set up their own exchanges. Thus, they ceded states rights to the federal government. And, considering that the “current” healthcare system is broken, with costs and outcomes that are worse than other industrialized countries, what happens if they succeed in scuttling Obamacare? The individual mandate is the best idea the Right had for addressing this issue. The only remaining option will be for a truly government run single-payer system.

Posted by pjwylie | Report as abusive

HamsterHerder, the failed intellectual, thinks he has something to teach. Very humorous, as no-one else can figure out a word of what you are talking about, ranting on and on as you do. Who mentioned Stalin and Mao? a sure sign of a crackpot, if I have ever heard one, is to accuse people of things they didn’t say

Go back to your bunker, and reorganize your string beans and other canned goods

Posted by Benny27 | Report as abusive

@HamsterHerder Wow, my pointing out the hypocrisy of Republicans denouncing what was originally their own plan somehow caused somehow caused the genocide of 55 million people! I hope everyone reads your post.

Posted by QuietThinker | Report as abusive

The hypocrisy of undefined pure hate, often originating from professed Christians, seems to be sweeping most of the GOP. It’s as if a Stupid Virus (SV) were infecting millions of people. It’s weird that so many of them claim to support the Constitution, but oppose the socialist bent of all of the Founding Fathers and despise the Christian Socialist principle in the Constitution to “promote the general welfare”. As ex-President Carter has said, these people who claim to be Christian patriots, but despise the poor, aren’t Christians nor patriots. They are definitely not the “real” Americans either. They’re mopes who constitute the Idiocracy. We need to eradicate this disease.

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

The Republicans have long suffered from Chronic HealthCare Syndrome.Obamacare is just their latest bugaboo.
Over 65 years ago it was another Republican Senator from Ohio, Senator Robert Taft who was dead set against National Health Insurance proposed by President Truman. “I consider it socialism,” the revered leader of the Republican Party on domestic affairs declared. “It is to my mind the most socialistic measure this Congress has ever had before it.” Taft suggested that Compulsory Health Insurance came right out of the Soviet Constitution and walked out of the Congressional hearings.
In the chilly climate of the Cold War he and other Republican lawmakers wanted to make sure that the US would not catch a bad case of socialized medicine.

Posted by retroarama | Report as abusive

This is Obama’s “defining issue”, too – his name is all over it.

Posted by AZreb | Report as abusive

Fine, OK, we get it, the conservos are against the ACA, but what specifically are they for besides the have-mores getting more?

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

The underlying problem is that the ACA lacks legitimacy.It is extremely ill-advised to adopt such wide-ranging legislation with absolutely not even a hint of consensus – similar impact legislation – Social Security, Medicare, Civil Rights at least had bi-partisan support. ACA was passed hurriedly with almost unprecedented legislative (and later, judicial) legerdemain. This is even putting aside the Act’s breathtaking and unsupported faith in the administrative state.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

can’t help but notice most of the crowd cruz is playing to are probably on or close to medicare already. does that mean they plan to opt out of that universal health coverage and pay for an individual policy? of course not – but they certainly don’t mind keeping 60 million people younger than themselves from having similar universal coverage. “leave mine alone but you can’t have any” seems a bit childish. full circle i guess.

Posted by jcfl | Report as abusive