Even some Republicans lost patience with Speaker John Boehner and his House colleagues as the weekend ended and a shutdown of the federal government loomed. U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine warned about “a strategy that cannot possibly work.” U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania declared: “It’s time to govern. I don’t intend to support a fool’s errand at this point.”
For their part, Boehner and his allies insist they have engaged in compromise, holding that if the Obama White House and Senate Democrats reciprocated, a shutdown could be averted. House Republicans did soften their position. They moved from “defunding” the new health-care law, the insurance exchanges opening today, to postponing implementation for a year, along with repealing a new tax on medical devices.
In this instance, past is prologue. House Republicans have voted fortysomething times to take down the package of health-care reform. Think in a year, at the height of the campaign season, they would give up their cause?
Their talk of compromise has been disingenuous in another way. Imagine a different scenario, Democrats controlling the House, Republicans with the presidency and the Senate majority, the country requiring a continuing resolution to keep the government operating. What would Republicans think about Democrats attaching a tax increase as the price for passage? They would howl about foul play.
Recall that the health-care law was enacted through the regular sequence, Democrats winning the White House and legislative majorities at the polls, pushing the legislation to passage (many of the concepts Republican in origin), the president signing the measure into law. In that way, Republicans have an opening: Win enough elections to make the changes you want.
What isn’t acceptable is a brand of extortion. Already the tactic has resulted in harm, two years ago slowing the pace of the recovery, the country’s credit rating downgraded and, most recently, through the misguided sequester, taking aim at essential aspects of the government (health research, for instance) and further crimping economic growth and job creation. Then, add the damaging portrait of Washington chronically at the brink, unable to govern in a sensible manner.
What would a one-year postponement of the health-care law bring? The Congressional Budget Office projects roughly 11 million people remaining in the ranks of the uninsured. More, premiums in the individual market would be higher, the exchanges disrupted, insurers having to recalculate their rates. A persuasive case has been made that the modest medical device tax won’t harm innovation, the industry benefiting from an influx of many new customers.
Neither does the health-care law rate as the huge problem that Republicans claim, the evidence simply not there about costing jobs, or accelerating part-time work, or placing unfair burden on young people. It doesn’t belong at the center of a fight about the federal government having the necessary funds to operate.