Oh, no. Not again. Like a recurring nightmare, the tea party faction of the House of Representatives is once again threatening to shut down the government at the end of the month if the White House doesn’t knuckle under to their demand to strip President Obama’s healthcare law of financing.
The timing is no coincidence: The threat of withholding funding from the government at the beginning of the fiscal year is a huge bargaining chip. This year, the timing is even better for those opposed to “Obamacare”: The moment of decision comes just as the most important feature of the law - insurance exchanges for those previously unable to obtain healthcare coverage - goes live on Oct. 1.
This may seem like a political winner for the 40 or so tea party lawmakers in the House leading the charge against the healthcare law, but it’s wrong for their party and wrong in every other respect. The only proper response to this political ultimatum is No.
In the first place, it won’t work. No matter what happens in the House, Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas - one of the early proponents of the shutdown gimmick - has come to the realization that there’s no chance it can win Senate approval. This rare moment of candor from Sen. Cruz brought howls of protest from allies in the House who claimed he’d surrendered before the fight even began. But he’s right. This ploy is going nowhere.
The health-care law is not perfect. Obama has acknowledged as much. The transition period will be particularly difficult. Change always is. But holding the government hostage to demands that the law be killed outright or delayed is not the way for lawmakers to deal with the challenge of implementing a new program.
Instead of using confrontational tactics designed to sink healthcare reform, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle should work with the White House to amend the law wherever it seems wise to do so. That’s the way the government has dealt with programs like Social Security and Medicare - which critics called disruptive and problematic when they were hatched - for decades.
Those programs weren’t perfect from the start. But they’ve improved and prolonged the lives of millions of Americans over the years and become indispensable government services. The Affordable Care Act offers the same promise by extending the coverage net to millions who lack healthcare insurance. It bans lifetime maximums, pre-existing condition denials and non-reimbursed emergency treatments. That will help those who already enjoy coverage, as well.
Speaker John Boehner, charged with the unenviable task of leading a fractured House Republican majority, has yielded to the most extreme voices in his caucus over the Obamacare showdown. He should know better.
Previous attempts to hold the government hostage haven’t worked out very well for his party. This one won’t either.
Undeterred by a host of arguments on the House floor, Republicans on Friday voted 230-189 to defund the president’s healthcare law. This will only add new evidence to the president’s long-standing assertion that the House is in the grip of a reckless minority.
There is still time to pull back from the brink, but it should never have gotten this far. A Republican Party that controls one half (the House of Representatives) of one third (the legislative branch) of the government cannot override the majority. Trying vainly to do so may seem like good politics, but it isn’t. It’s a suicide mission.