Despite being likened to ruthless terrorists, and in the face of alarmist criticism from the press, Republicans have achieved something positive (and small-d democratic!) for the American people in standing against the implementation of Obamacare. The offer to renew funding for the entire government if individuals receive, by law, the same one-year delay that Obama reserved for corporations, by fiat, is a winning tactical position.
President Barack Obama and the Democrats will not budge from their insistence that there will be no negotiations over Obamacare or the debt ceiling. Yet the success of that tactic depends on being able to paint the Republicans as determined to disrupt the economy for political gain. The weakness of that position, however, is that if the GOP offers a reasonable alternative, Obama and the Democrats are left hoping for failure.
Against all odds, that is what the House Republican leadership has achieved in the past few days, under sustained pressure from conservatives on both sides of Capitol Hill. In a way, they have President Obama to thank: his own constant rhetoric about “fairness” has created the standard by which Republicans now propose to measure his actions on Obamacare. Democrats who anticipate a repeat of 1995-6 may be in for a big surprise.
Unlike the debt ceiling talks of 2011, this time Republicans are not speaking in abstract terms about long-term shortfalls and unfunded entitlement liabilities (though they cannot avoid those subjects for much longer). They have made the battle about something that has a real, concrete effect on people’s lives–an effect millions of households are facing, as of Tuesday, in new insurance costs, lost coverage and limited work opportunities.
This time around, the Democrats are the ones arguing a case in the abstract–namely, the benefits of Obamacare–which even the uninsured and those with pre-existing health conditions, who are meant to benefit most directly from the law, have largely ignored. An eleven-page section of the recent issue of Consumer Reports is the closest anyone has come to explaining Obamacare–and observes that the law “may need to be fixed.”
Brinkmanship has prevented Democrats from admitting that fact, and retreating to a more defensible position, such as accepting amendments to Obamacare. But a White House that has just lost face at the UN, and which has been castigated by Democrats for weakness in past fiscal debates, is determined to stay the course. If the GOP can resist the media pressure, it stands a chance to win–not just for itself, but the country.