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OPINION - Obamacare: by whatever means necessary

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It was French playwright Jean-Paul Sartre who coined the phrase. Malcolm X brought it into the mainstream. People were nervous when he announced in 1965 that blacks would assert their civil rights “by whatever means necessary.” It was the year of the Watts riots in LA.

Now consider health care reform.

Barack Obama campaigned on needing bipartisan support for health care reform. As a candidate he said the law would fail if there wasn’t some level of Republican support.  The final bill was pushed through the House of Representatives on Christmas night without a single GOP vote. But Republicans had only 40 votes in the U.S. Senate – not enough to block the health care bill. Then something happened. Senator Ted Kennedy died. Massachusetts had a special election to fill the seat. A Republican, Scott Brown, won. Democrats were left with 59 votes, not the 60 required, to move the bill. Seemingly stymied, Democrats were undeterred. They changed Senate rules and had the bill considered under the reconciliation process, needing only 50 votes to pass. It was approved in the middle of the night, again with no Republican votes.

The President got his health care bill “by whatever means necessary”.

Now consider Republicans, who’d campaigned on repealing Obamacare. The best they can muster now is trying to negotiate a one year delay which they will probably cave on this weekend to avoid a government shutdown.

They have insufficient ruthlessness.

Suppose right after the Senate’s vote the GOP said we’re so outraged that special order rules were used to ram this thing through that we’re shutting down the U.S. Senate. No votes. No nominations. No spending bills. Nothing until the vote is reconsidered under normal Senate rules.

Consider what the House could have done: defund the hiring of additional IRS agents to enforce the law, defund the use of federal computers to set up the exchanges, defund Obamacare money that flowed to the Department of Health and Human Services, defund transfers to the states for implementation.

Republicans made a critical misstate – they distracted the nation by focusing on another issue, albeit an important one. The GOP pivoted to spending and taxes, demanding spending cuts and using the debt ceiling as a weapon. They forgot that there can only be one top priority.

What would have happened if the GOP linked the debt ceiling to Obamacare instead of holding out for spending cuts? (This is exactly what they should have done. Spending cuts are temporary and are easily reversed by amendments to other bills. Obamacare is forever and will be increasing difficult to unwind.)

Dems would howl that this is “unprecedented”. Yet why are Republicans so inept at making the argument that way the health care bill was passed was equally unprecedented? Every Republican in Congress today is on the record opposing Obamacare. Not a single one of them voted to make the bill law. Why are they expected to vote ‘yes’ on allowing the law to be implemented?

This brings us to the next problem. The law has many, many flaws. Democrats will want additional legislation to fix it, everything from pumping more money into the system, to extending coverage to non-citizen guest workers, to doing away with the still-financially-ruinous 60-40 bronze plans. Will the GOP cave on these votes? Are they afraid of being painted as obstructionists, just as they’re already running scared of being blamed for a government shutdown?

Obamacare is becoming a reality because one side practiced “by whatever means necessary” politics, and the other side didn’t. And, as in most things, the side that wants it more – wins.

Chris Conley
9.27.13