Negotiation 101: Republicans Cannot Accept Less than a One-Year Delay in Obamacare

Negotiation 101: Republicans Cannot Accept Less than a One-Year Delay in Obamacare

Even as the rollout of Obamacare continues to fail, President Barack Obama has rejected the Republicans’ demand for a one-year delay in the individual mandate to buy health insurance, though he earlier granted a delay to small businesses. In fact, the White House intends to pocket the short-term debt limit being offered by House Republicans while refusing any concession (“ransom”) for funding the federal government.

White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters today that while President was “happy” that the GOP seemed ready to consider a short-term debt increase, he would not accept that offer until he had seen any other conditions Republicans had attached. In the meantime, Carney continued to attack the Tea Party and to describe its bargaining position as an attempt to “harm the American economy and the American people.”

That kind of rhetoric will ensure that the government shutdown will continue (and it may also place the debt-limit offer in danger). In addition, yesterday’s conservative brouhaha over whether Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) was abandoning the fight over Obamacare–misguided though it may have been–illustrated just how little room Republican leaders have to move. They cannot accept a deal that does not include real change to Obamacare.

Conservatives believe that House Republicans have already made significant compromises, moving away from the demand to defund Obamacare and accepting a one-year delay in the individual mandate, plus an end to the congressional exemptions. Politico reports that moderates are finding traction among Senate Republicans by offering smaller changes: a repeal of the medical device tax, and proof of income on the Obamacare exchanges.

Those proposals will not satisfy conservatives, since the repeal of the medical device tax could pass anyway outside of the present confrontation (even Elizabeth Warren supports it), and because the exchanges cannot even stay online for very long, much less retain or protect sensitive income data. It is also not clear that these proposals would be accepted by the White House, who refuse any compromise on the shutdown at all.

Conservatives are not in the mood to be told they have to adjust expectations because of what the White House is willing to do, because Republicans only control one half of one third of the government, and so on. That is what they have been told since the first continuing resolution fight in early 2011. They will withdraw support from GOP candidates in 2014 if they are asked to swallow another bad deal. It’s a one-year delay or nothing.

So the government shutdown is likely to continue. Conservatives point to evidence that the media are slowly coming around to the view that a one-year delay in the individual mandate makes sense even for proponents of Obamacare. That will create real pressure on Democrats and the White House. But President Obama shows no sign of backing down on the continuing resolution. (It is the one “red line” he may actually intend to defend.)

The only way around the impasse is one I suggested on Monday: that Republicans propose a one-year delay in the individual mandate as part of the short-term debt ceiling deal, while offering to pass a “clean” continuing resolution in return. That will allow the White House to say it defended its “red line” against “ransom” on the CR while allowing Republicans to prove to the party base that they have what it takes to fulfill the voters’ trust.

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