How House can defund Obamacare
In just two weeks, millions of Americans will become eligible to sign up for the Obamacare exchanges. It will mark the first time millions of voters will have the opportunity to opt into Obamacare, and they will do so with the expectation of receiving benefits in a few short months. Opponents of President Obama’s health care regime can argue about the quality and cost of that care, but entitlement programs are notoriously difficult to unravel once the money starts flowing.
To date, there is just one legislative strategy on the table that is geared toward stopping Obamacare before the exchanges open on October 1st — defund Obamacare on the year-end spending bill. The strategy is supported by Senators like Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), Congressmen like Justin Amash (R-MI) and Mark Meadows (R-NC), and conservative voters all across the country.
First, it is important to understand what conservatives mean by “defunding Obamacare.”
Defunding Obamacare means attaching a legislative rider (think of the Hyde Amendment) to the year-end spending bill, which will be considered by September 30, the day before the Obamacare exchanges open for enrollment. The rider would prohibit any funds from being spent on any activities to implement or enforce Obamacare, rescind unspent balances that have already been appropriated and turn off the exchange subsidy and new Medicaid spending, the so-called mandatory spending. Fortunately, the language described already exists in the form of the Defund Obamacare Act of 2013 introduced by Cruz and Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA).
Second, it is important to understand defunding Obamacare is not a new idea.
In 2011, after Republicans took control of the House thanks to the tea party wave, they included a defunding provision on their continuing resolution when it first passed the House. Obviously the provision was jettisoned in subsequent negotiations, but they were not afraid to pursue defunding.
Third, it is important to understand what this is not.
It is not an effort, as some have suggested, to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government. Most folks understand that shutting down the government would not defund Obamacare (though it is unclear how much slush fund money the administration has on hand). Conservatives who are pushing to defund Obamacare are the same ones pushing to fund the government.
Fourth, it is important to understand how the defund effort can succeed, even with Barack Obama occupying the Oval Office.
In 2010, no one would have predicted the Obama administration would unilaterally delay the employer mandate months before it was scheduled to go into effect. Similarly, the administration has delayed electronic notices for Medicaid, scaled back oversight of income eligibility and eliminated insurance verification. In short, Obamacare is not sacrosanct.
Given the alignment of Obamacare enrollment and the need to pass a government funding bill, it is entirely appropriate for conservatives in Congress to wage a real fight to defund a law that is destroying jobs, increasing costs and coming between patients and their doctors. If the Republican House wages this fight — as opposed to a fight against conservatives — they can win the national argument.
In fact, a new CNN poll finds just 39 percent of Americans now approve of Obamacare, a drop of 12 points since January. CNN explained the “poll’s release comes after a major push the past six weeks by conservative groups to try and defund the health care law.” In other words, a concerted effort can move public opinion and set the stage for substantial policy victories.
House Republicans have won the public argument before. During the summer of 2011, they proclaimed the debt ceiling would not be increased unless President Obama agreed to cut spending. It was a simple demand, not hedged with self-negotiations, and one they repeated often. And the American people rallied to their side. Republicans were leading the generic congressional ballot, and President Obama’s approval was plummeting.
The blueprint exists, and the importance of acting now – not later – cannot be understated. One of the few entitlement programs to be clawed back was the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988. It was repealed after the public rose up in opposition to an overwhelmingly bipartisan law, but before it had time to be fully implemented. And make no mistake, the Obama folks consider October 1 to be full implementation, at least in terms of beating back any repeal efforts.
No one knows what Harry Reid will do in the Senate – including Harry Reid – but conservatives outside of Washington are ready to take the fight to Obamacare supporters. Will red-state Democrats running for re-election risk a government shutdown simply to protect Obamacare? We won’t know until the House tries.
Dan Holler is the communications director for Heritage Action for America.