Republicans are about to choose between suicide and assisted suicide.
The federal government is running out of money again, and Congress needs to pass legislation to fund the 2014 fiscal year, which starts in October. Thus, Congress and the president will soon be debating whether to raise the limit on the nation’s credit card.
Conservative Republicans see the coming debt limit and federal funding debate as an opportunity to pull the financial rug out from under Obamacare.
Led by Utah Sen. Mike Lee, they say they’re prepared to shut the government down rather than authorize any money to implement the health care reform law.
Pressure mounted this week, when over 50 conservative organizations and luminaries wrote a letter to House Republicans urging them to use the government spending bill to defund Obamacare.
“The ultimate ‘power of the purse’ still resides in the House,” the letter reads, “and the House will soon act to fund the government. In doing so, the House should include language ensuring that no more taxpayer dollars can be used to implement Obamacare.
“This funding prohibition should include all Obamacare funding streams, both discretionary and mandatory, and it should eliminate funding for Obamacare’s new entitlements.
“This will effectively halt implementation and enforcement of the law in its entirety, and will give the President and Senate Democrats a choice: Continue funding the government, or shut down the government on behalf of an unpopular law that they have admitted will not work and cannot be enforced as written.”
We appreciate the spirit of the argument. Obamacare is opposed by a majority of Americans: support for it is in the 30th percentile and opposition to it is in the 50th percentile in most polls.
And that doesn’t begin to explain the growing unpopularity of Obamacare. Perhaps this does: A week after three major labor unions warned of the destruction of the middle class by Obamacare, the National Treasury Employees Union asked its members to write their elected representatives in Congress to oppose their being included in Obamacare health-care exchanges.
The union’s membership might interest you: It includes employees at the IRS, the very agency charged with enforcing the law!
That’s when you know you’re losing the crowd.
But despite all this, we’re not sure Obamacare is sufficiently unpopular that Republicans will look like heroes to much of the public by blocking it – particularly if they have to shut down a good bit of the federal government to get that done.
The last big government shutdown, in the 1990s, was a public relations disaster for congressional Republicans. There’s no reason to think it wouldn’t be this time, either. Consider: The main result of the GOP blockade of Obamacare would be to deny many folks of its benefits, including subsidies that begin Jan. 1, to millions of voting-age Americans.
The former mainstream media would no doubt savage Republicans for doing so, and for shutting down nonessential portions of the government.
The principal effect might be to make Obamacare more popular than it deserves to be, and to ensure Democratic control of the Senate in next year’s midterm elections. It might even endanger Republicans’ hold on the House, too, according to Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., perhaps the party’s leading fiscal hawk.
“I’d be leading the charge if I thought this would work. But it will not work,” Coburn was quoted this week. “The strategy that has been laid out is a good way for Republicans to lose the House. I’m getting phone calls from Oklahoma saying, ‘Support Mike Lee,’ and I’m ramming right back: ‘Support him in destroying the Republican Party?’”
It does appear to be a suicide pact.
The best course, in our view, is for House Republicans to vote to defund Obamacare – so they can once again say “I told you so” – but not to make it their Alamo.
It may be a form of assisted suicide, but Republicans had their chance to win over voters in last year’s elections and failed. All that may remain may be for the electorate to take its bitter medicine – and for conservatives to pick up the pieces later, if there are any.