Republicans are finally united
There is a big fight in Washington D.C. among Republicans about what to do with Obamacare.
Or is there?
Every Republican in the House and Senate agrees that Obamacare should be repealed and replaced with a consumer friendly, non-bureaucratic health care system.
The question before Republican elected officials who have to vote on specific legislation and the conservative movement offering strategic advice is how to get from here to there.
This is not a fight between Rockefeller Republicans and Goldwater Republicans. In the not too distant past there was a congressional wing of the GOP that supported new government initiatives and viewed them as permanent once enacted. That is not the case today.
While focusing on how to repeal Obamacare conservatives would do well to celebrate that the party and the movement are united in this goal and are now engaged solely in a question of tactics and strategy. This is a sea change in American politics and a welcome one.
So what is to be done?
Obamacare is an entitlement and was passed into law in 2010. Since then we elected a Republican controlled House of Representatives that has three times voted to repeal Obamacare in its entirety and 37 times has voted to strip out parts. The Senate is run by Democrats and the White House has the veto. Seven times the Democrats in the Senate and White House have actually voted for and signed legislation that pares back parts of Obamacare allowing those changes to become law.
Both teams have a veto. The Republican majority in the House can refuse to vote for any bill the Democrats want. The 55-vote Democrat Majority in the Senate can refuse to pass any bill proposed by Republicans. The President can veto any legislation that does pass both Houses. (The Left has two lines of defense.)
But some legislation is known as “must pass.” Congress “must pass” the Continuing Resolution to continue the funding of the federal government by October 1 and some time in November Congress “must pass” the debt ceiling increase bill.
This gives both Democrats and Republicans some leverage. Republicans remember that they forced the Democrat Senate and the President to accept small spending cuts in 2011 as part of short term Continuing Resolutions (CRs). Republicans also celebrate that in August 2011 the Democrat Senate and Obama agreed to spending caps and sequestration that reduces Obama’s planned spending by $2.5 trillion over the next decade in return for a $2.5 trillion increase in the Debt Ceiling.
The Ted Cruz gambit
Freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz argues that Republicans could “demand” that the Democrat Senate vote for and Obama sign the complete and permanent defunding of Obamacare in return for a Continuing Resolution to fund the government. If the Democrats did not agree to “repeal” their signature legislation the House Republicans would then refuse to vote for any CR to fund the entire government. Cruz was joined initially by 17 Senate Republicans. Since then five have removed their names from his original letter and Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson have rather roughly criticized the seriousness of the proposed tactic.
House members have been unexcited that Cruz, a Junior senator now demands that they follow his strategy or be attacked as cowards who do not want to repeal Obamacare. They point out that they have repeatedly voted to do this but the Senate does not have enough Republicans to participate usefully in this endeavor. Senator Cruz has laid out a strategy that can only be implemented by House Republicans. Assigning work to others is not considered actually doing something in Washington or elsewhere.
Can Republicans force Obama to sign the abolition of Obamacare because they have control of the House? Could Democrats force the GOP to enact gun control because they control the Senate and White House? Why does Cruz believe Obama and Harry Reid are less ideologically committed to their vision than Republicans are? What is the evidence for this?
Threat to Close down the Government
Senator Cruz believes that if Republicans refuse to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government because Obama would not agree to defund Obamacare that the American people would blame Obama for “closing down the federal government.” This assumes that ABC, CBS, NBC, the Washington Post and the New York Times report the Cruz narrative and not the White House “spin.” History suggests this is not extremely likely. In 1995, the Republican congress passed a budget and Clinton vetoed it. Clinton’s veto “closed down the government.” But that is not how Time magazine reported it and it is not how history was written. Today, the GOP has only the House majority and cannot send the president a take-it-or-leave-it-budget or CR or Debt Ceiling bill. The House may pass a bill and the Senate could pass a different bill. Who is to blame then for the failure/refusal to pass a CR? The clarity of 1995 where a Republican House and Senate confronted a Democrat White House is gone. There are three players on the field and two wear Democrat jerseys.
And one wonders what this president would do with no budget or CR…why would he not simply spend money on his priorities with no restraint by Congress? A government shut down might give Obama more power over the purse than a simple CR or budget. Obama might fund food stamps and forget to pay the military…then invite the GOP to raise taxes to “fix” the problem.
Marsha Blackburn’s Strategy
Congressman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee has introduced legislation that has 50 actual co-sponsors that would delay all of Obamacare one year. This could be attached to the CR or any debt ceiling legislation. This idea has been endorsed by Ways and Means Committee Chair Dave Camp.
A growing number of congressmen view Blackburn’s strategy as more likely to succeed. It still requires Democrat votes in the Senate and a signature by the president.
Control of the House gives Republicans and conservatives a seat at the table. It does not give them ultimate power. Why might the Democrats compromise on a one year delay of Obamacare?
The president has chosen to delay several significant pieces of Obamacare for his friends in big business, the insurance companies, and unions. Democrat senators might prefer facing voters in 2014 without the hypocrisy of selective enforcement of Obamacare. Obama might well fear that forcing the issue now will cost him seats in Congress and that a tactical retreat would allow him to fight another day. He made that decision in 2011 when he proposed and signed the sequester. He assumed he could remove it later. He bet wrong.
Republicans in the House and Senate can and should offer both Cruz and Blackburn’s legislation to the CR and/or Debt Ceiling. The GOP House has passed abolition of Obamacare before. Perhaps Cruz is right that Reid and Obama will vote for and sign such legislation. The president might give you his liver as a gift. But in case he chooses to reject this kind invitation to destroy his life work, Republicans would do well to have a backup plan and continue to push for Blackburn’s one year delay that builds on Obama’s recent history of supporting partial delays for his friends.
Arguments over tactics and strategy are not arguments over principle. Those who are frustrated over the loss of the Senate and White House in 2012 should focus on winning same in 2014 and 2016. Anything that distracts from the fact that the Democrats wrote and voted for his “train wreck” undermines the conservative cause and delays victory over Obamacare.
Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. Follow him on Twitter at @GroverNorquist