Most of Washington has decided that the ObamaCare defunding debate, led by Sens. Cruz and Lee, is a disaster for the Republican party. It is unlikely to succeed, they argue, and risks a government shutdown, which will be blamed on the GOP and hurt their chances in 2014. The argument is plausible, but very short-sighted. Two important things have happened as a result of this debate which benefit the GOP.
First, all anyone in politics or the press is talking about right now is ObamaCare and the Republican push to defund it. Against this backdrop have been countless stories about the problems coming to light as ObamaCare nears implementation. One company after another are dropping or scaling back health coverage. Even governments are making moves to move their employees or retirees onto ObamaCare exchanges.
Premiums are increasing more than expected for many people. Those with the most affordable coverage will have limited choices of doctors and providers. Most of the health exchanges scheduled to open next week aren’t ready or will have serious bugs to work out.
How is it bad for the GOP to have a big national debate on getting rid of ObamaCare on the eve of its implementation, just as the public is again paying attention to the issue? It benefits the party to remind voters that Republicans will go to almost any length to defund a law who’s unpopularity is likely to grow. It also benefits the party to remind voters that Democrats will go to almost any length to preserve the law.
Second, while the political world is consumed with ObamaCare funding, it isn’t debating spending levels in the Continuing Resolution. The House-passed measure assumes the sequester cuts and sets discretionary spending at $967 billion, a level not seen since before Obama took office. While the sequester has numerous flaws, especially as it relates to the military, that is a significant and real spending cut.
Without the ObamaCare debate, Democrats and the media would be brow-beating Republicans to increase spending or even restore the cuts that have already been made to the budget. The Senate budget called for a big spike in discretionary spending. Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), however, is expected to agree to the lower level of spending in the House CR as an inducement for the House to pass a Senate version restoring ObamaCare.
Personally, I was never really a fan of the ObamaCare defunding fight. Over 70% of ObamaCare is funded by mandatory spending and can’t be defunded through congressional appropriations. Most of the law would march on, even if Congress defunded it.
Politically, though, it is looking more like a winner for conservative Republicans and the Tea Party. Democrats may come to regret that they fought so hard to preserve funding and defend ObamaCare.