In a fit of pique that appears not unlike flipping over a board game when it becomes apparent that defeat is imminent, House Republicans have prevented the passage of a routine government spending bill for several weeks, demanding in exchange that President Obama dismantle or defund his signature legislative achievement: the Affordable Care Act (or “Obamacare”). In the absence of funding, the Federal government has shut down, and at the time of this writing shows no sign of reopening.
Despite the fact that it has no bargaining power (other than holding the government for ransom), and that public opinion is solidly against it, the Republican Party is sticking to its demand, while the president, realizing that he is obviously going to win this fight in the end, is holding firm in his refusal. Except for the hysterical shrieking of the GOP’s army of dead-end pundits trying to blame the whole thing on Obama, the press is calling the Republican gambit a colossal mistake, a political blunder of the highest order, the last gasps of a dying party.
To the contrary, I think it’s the most brilliant political strategy I’ve ever witnessed.
When President Obama was campaigning in 2008, he promised Universal Healthcare at every stop. Most people took this to mean a single-payer system, like Canada and the United Kingdom have. (A single-payer system means, basically, that the government pays for your healthcare — it is the single payer — and it’s paid for by taxes.)
Predictably crying “socialism” and “communism” and “fascism” and any other scary-sounding “-ism” they could think of, Republicans quickly made single-payer a nonstarter once Obama was elected. Knowing that no matter how perfect his plan might be, it would still have to get past the Republicans in Congress, Obama decided to pursue another model for Universal Healthcare: to require everyone to buy insurance, thus vastly broadening the risk pool and enabling the private insurance companies to insure the sick without going broke.
Republicans should have been thrilled: this idea came from the right-wing think tank The Heritage Foundation, and was designed specifically to grant Universal Healthcare without turning the whole system over to the government. It kept the private insurance industry intact, and in fact gifted it millions of new customers. This model got a successful test run in Massachussetts, where Republican Governor Mitt Romney successfully applied it at the state level.
Instead of rejoicing that they got Obama to enact their plan, Republicans dug in and fought it, calling it unconstitutional, calling it fascism, calling it socialist (not the same thing, but never mind), and starting an all-out public relations war to terrify the public into rejecting it. Every step of the legislative process was marred by Republican obstruction, and whatever progressive ideas might have remained in the bill (like the “public option” — a government-run insurance plan intended to undercut prices and keep the private companies honest) were systematically stripped out until the bill that eventually passed was negligibly different from what Heritage had proposed back in the 1990s or Romney had implemented in Massachussetts.
One might have expected the passage of the bill through Congress, and Obama signing it into law, to be the end of the fight. SPOILER ALERT: It wasn’t.
The Republican-controlled House subsequently voted, over the next three years, 25 times to repeal Obamacare, despite the obvious fact that the repeal would never pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, and even if it did, would be immediately vetoed by the president. The party also engineered a court challenge to the constitutionality of the law, which eventually reached the mostly Republican-appointed Supreme Court. Surprisingly, the arch-conservative Chief Justice John Roberts cast the tiebreaking vote in Obamacare’s favor, the law was upheld, any and all possibility of its repeal was quashed. So House Republicans voted to repeal it 16 more times, and then when that didn’t work, they launched this suicide mission to shut down the government and very likely trigger a credit default by not raising the debt ceiling.
To the casual observer, this probably just looks like idiots engaging in the definition of insanity, flogging a dead horse for a lost cause. But to a keen, analytical mind like mine, it’s sheer genius.
By fighting and obstructing and delaying every single step of the way, the Republicans have forced the entire Democratic party to focus almost completely on this one issue for over five years. They have forced the Democrats to fight with all their strength to get Obamacare passed, then upheld, then funded, then implemented, to the exclusion of any other domestic policy. Except for a brief, doomed dalliance with some very light tightening of gun rights, can anyone name a policy initiative in the works other than Obamacare?
Analysts in the media keep saying that Obama will never give in and withdraw the Affordable Care Act because it’s his “signature achievement.” That’s because, thanks to the Republicans, it’s his only achievement, and he’s still fighting for it three years after he signed it into law. His campaign promises on renewable energy, closing tax loopholes, simplifying the tax code, renewed infrastructure, expanding cancer research, digitizing federal records, and so, so many more have gotten little more than lip service as his attention has been consumed by negotiating and passing and defending Obamacare.
You know that part in Die Hard, when Hans Gruber demands the release of all political prisoners around the world as a condition of releasing the hostages? It was an obviously impossible demand, but it kept the cops busy while his guys tried to break into the vault.
The Republicans haven’t been trying to stop Obamacare: they’ve been running out the clock. Remember last week, when they bizarrely added a demand to restrict women’s access to birth control to their already insane demand to defund Obamacare before they’d allow the vote to fund the government? They didn’t do that because they thought they’d get it — they did it to make the Democrats tear their hair out for a few extra days and waste more time arguing about it.
Obviously, Obamacare is here to stay. As various Republicans have commented in the runup to the shutdown, once people start using it, it will be impossible to get rid of it. And that’s exactly what the Republicans want. Because, don’t forget, it’s a plan that was hatched in a right-wing think tank. If John McCain had won the 2008 election, it’s likely that he would have signed a very similar plan into law without all the hassles and headaches before pivoting unobstructed to deregulating agribusiness or outlawing unions or whatever archconservative crap his party is aching for.
Romneycare’s Obamacare’s merits, it’s a far cry from what almost any Democrat would have wanted — single-payer — and once it goes into effect, single-payer will be gone for good, which is a huge, huge victory for Republicans. Not only that, whatever hiccups and glitches happen as the new policy rolls out to the public will be blamed on Obama. Talk about having your cake and eating it too. The fact that they get to shut down the hated guv’mint for a couple weeks and show people how much we really don’t need it? Delicious, delicious frosting.
So when Obamacare is finally implemented once and for all and we’re all high-fiving about how we stayed strong and beat those evil Republicans at their own game, remember what we’re really celebrating: that they made us waste five years fighting tooth and nail to drag them kicking and screaming into adopting their own version of healthcare reform: a massive gift to the private insurance industry that, while better than the old system (as literally anything this side of Santeria and voodoo would be), is a great distance from true, fair universal healthcare.
Just kidding. These guys are idiots, they hate the plan solely because it represents a victory for Obama, they have no idea what they’re even fighting for, and the government is unsalvageable as long as they’re a part of it. Ventura/Stern 2016!