There's an effort afoot to zero out ObamaCare money in the next budget battle, which will inevitably boil down to either Republicans threatening to shut down the government if ObamaCare is funded, or Democrats threatening to shut down the government if it's not funded. No prizes for guessing which way the media will frame it, but given the growing public discontent with a program they disliked even before it started going to pieces before their eyes, the public relations fallout might not be dominated by the choice of headlines at the New York Times.
However, Byron York at the Washington Examiner rolls in with a trillion gallons of cold water for the defunding crusade, explaining that not much of ObamaCare's money is subject to congressional approval:
Money to fund Obamacare comes from two sources. A relatively small part of it, including some of the funds used to get the program going, comes from Congress' regular yearly appropriations. Congress could raise or lower the amounts without changing Obamacare itself. The defund-Obamacare Republicans in the Senate hope to strip out that discretionary funding from a continuing resolution needed to fund the government that Congress will debate in September.
They know they won't succeed. Democrats, with 54 votes, have enough to pass anything that requires a simple majority, and won't have much trouble getting to a filibuster-proof 60 votes, either. "I could count six or seven Republicans who would vote for full funding of the continuing resolution without breaking a sweat," says one Senate aide who supports defunding. "So they're going to get to 60."
But that's just the discretionary part of Obamacare. The far bigger portions of the program, including the billions and billions of dollars in subsidies that will start going to Americans on Jan. 1, are mandatory spending, an entitlement funded by an automatic appropriation which is written into law and runs without further congressional action. To change that, Congress would have to change Obamacare.
In the Senate, that would take 67 votes - the amount needed to overcome a guaranteed presidential veto. If the 46 Senate Republicans voted unanimously to end the Obamacare entitlement, they would have to persuade 21 Democrats to go along.
The people who inflicted ObamaCare on us weren't terribly concerned about the nuances of designing a program Americans could live with, or that lived up to President Obama's promises. That sort of thing could be hashed out later, or not at all - whatever, dude. Lately they've been shrieking demands that the Republicans step in and fix all the problems with a law none of them voted for, and accusing them of "sabotaging government" for their refusal to do so.
But the one thing ObamaCare's authors were very careful to do was provide it with deep entitlement roots, and tough armor against reform. All the "health insurance" stuff was written in pencil (or not even written down at all) but the invincible entitlement funding was done with all the care of an oil painting from the Dutch masters. The rest of us needed to pass ObamaCare to find out what was in it, in Nancy Pelosi's infamous formulation, but nothing about the expansion of Big Government was left to chance.
Karl Rove appeared on Sean Hannity's show to discuss the defunding crusade on Thursday night, and warned he was nervous about the effort because "it gives the President the bully pulpit and a gigantic stick on which to beat us, because all he has to do is say, 'Look, this law was passed, it's on the books, I'm going to veto your continuing resolution that doesn't fund ObamaCare, and it's on you for shutting down the government.'"
Of course, that's not how Democrats view laws they don't like. How about that six-year-old law obliging Congress to build a border fence? The immigration laws Obama unilaterally decided to ignore, and which the political class in general disdains? The Defense of Marriage Act? For Democrats, the passage of a law they disagree with is the beginning of a battle; for Republicans, it's expected to be the end of history.
Rove said he preferred to keep pressure on ObamaCare until it "collapses in and of itself," which is another way of saying that it should be allowed to fail and then repealed in full, rather than suffering a fund-smashing baseball bat to its monstrous knees. There's always the risk - no, make that the absolute certainty - that a successful crusade to partially defund the program will be blamed by the President for all of the program's failures, just as every current problem is blamed on Republican obstructionism.
The subsidy trap Byron York warns about is a heck of a racket. ObamaCare will make insurance unaffordable, then give subsidies to a large segment of the middle class, so they can afford it. Anyone who tries to interfere with the subsidy machine will be accused of hating the Sainted Middle Class and Noble Poor, to the point of wanting them to drop dead. And if you think Obama's sequestration theatrics were disgusting, just wait until every future effort at fiscal reform can be portrayed as a vile attempt to cut off those ObamaCare subsidies. The first penny of all future spending cuts will come out of the welfare payments Obama got the middle class hooked on, so they can pay for the insurance he made more expensive.
Weakening this parasitic system before it takes root is vitally important. Karl Rove may be overestimating the threat ObamaCare's failure poses to the grand design. It's supposed to fail, and the answer proposed by its authors will be more government control, not less. When ObamaCare "collapses in and of itself," the even greater horror of socialized medicine will crawl forth from the corpse.
It's too bad Americans don't instinctively recoil from irreversible Big Government schemes. ObamaCare was supposedly "one man, one vote, one time," or perhaps two times, since Obama's re-election in 2012 is touted as the end of the story. Americans will never get to vote on the issue again; it is forever beyond the sphere of self-government. No matter how catastrophically ObamaCare fails, no matter how many jobs it kills, one election plus one re-election of one man equals eternal life. Obviously, the Democrats weren't honest with voters about that in 2008 and 2012, and the Republicans didn't say it loudly enough.
But is ObamaCare really an irreversible mistake? It's difficult to repeal a Big Government program with billions of dollars in subsidies and slush funds, but this whole notion of Americans as slaves to political destiny is both offensive to our traditions, and untrue. Everything can be changed. Even the Constitution can be amended. The people who say the Constitution is a meaningless old scrap of parchment also claim a law passed in 2010 is chiseled in stone, and hung around the neck of every American for the rest of history with an unbreakable chain.
What's needed to effect meaningful change is determination. The Left's never-ending crusades are evidence they understand this. When they want something, they don't let a poll showing 80 percent public opposition dissuade them. Their marches are long, but relentless. They know the value of keeping their voters motivated. There isn't a single law they don't think they can overturn with enough sustained effort.
The effort to defund as much of ObamaCare as possible - especially the utterly outrageous peripheral stuff, like Obama's money-laundering schemes to finance left-wing interest groups with tax dollars in the name of "ObamaCare education." Remind Americans that forcing them to finance the propagation of ideas they disagree with is tyranny - and the vast majority of Americans profoundly disagree with ObamaCare. Build public support to elect repeal-minded representatives in 2014; make Obama veto the bills, then beat his chosen successor into the ground with those vetoes in 2016. And don't let the Democrats shape the battlefield as merely "repeal," with nothing in mind for what comes next. Conservatives are understandably suspicious about slogans like "repeal and replace" because they can seem half-hearted, but that is what this should be about - replacing ObamaCare with health insurance reforms that actually work. Give the people something they really want, and ask them for permission to clear away the wreckage of Obama's bankrupt scheme to make room for it.
It's not easy. Big Government grows through skin-of-the-teeth dead-of-night kickback festivals like the one that saddled us with ObamaCare. Dismantling it is much harder work. But then, dignified freedom is always harder work than dependency, isn't it? The task for conservatives is, and always will be, showing the American people that freedom is worth the effort. That should be doable, when ObamaCare is available for contrast.