There is a belief amongst liberals that not just are Republicans rooting for Obamacare’s failure, but they are actively trying to make it happen. The argument was put forward today by Todd Putnam in Politico. He argues that a big reason why Obamacare has had such a rough first month is “calculated sabotage by Republicans at every step.” He proceeds to run through a number of reasons demonstrating this, but most of his piece does not provide evidence of actual sabotage. Instead, it simply proves that Republicans have done everything in their power to not help the law.
Sabotage is a loaded word. It means that the Republican party is taking an action to deliberately interfere with and disrupt Obamacare to ensure its failure. It’s actively undermining the law. That’s a serious charge. Republicans have long argued that Obamacare will fail because it’s a bad law. They have not argued that it will fail because they will make it fail. So, when liberals claim that Republicans are sabotaging Obamacare, it’s important to determine the veracity of those claims. And they simply don’t pass the smell test.
Here is Putnam’s evidence of Republican sabotage:
- Republicans wouldn’t pass any fixes to the law
- Most Republican governors declined to set up their own exchanges.
- Republicans would not appropriate dedicated funds to HHS.
- Nearly half the states refused to expand Medicaid.
- Many states refused to educate their constituents about the law.
- Republicans hampered hospitals that were helping educate consumers about the law.
Out of these six claims, two of them are legitimate claims of sabotage. Republicans not dedicating the already approved funds to HHS and overloading hospitals with queries were both actions deliberately taken to undermine the law. Those are sabotage efforts.
But the remaining four pieces of evidence are not. They simply are Republicans refusing to buy into the law whatsoever. Not allowing fixes to Obamacare certainly makes it worse, but as Democrats have said repeatedly, Obamacare is the law of the land. Republicans have no obligation to pass legislation to improve it. In addition, just because the architects of the law envisioned all states setting up their own exchanges doesn’t mean that they all have to. That was a choice that the states had. By choosing to let the federal government do it, these states are making a legal decision.
The refusal to expand Medicaid, on the other hand, was not part of the law’s original intent, but the Supreme Court opened up that possibility and states have every right to do so. Once again, this is not sabotage. It is simply Republican states refusing to help the law in any way. The same is true about educating their constituents. Republicans are under no obligation to do that as well.
If Republicans bought into the law and pushed for its success, it would certainly work better. There would be less stress on the federal government and more people would be covered thanks to the Medicaid expansion. There would be less confusion about the law and more people would know how to navigate the exchanges. But Republicans – and states in general – are not required to support everything the federal government does. States have their own rights for a reason.
The other side of this is that Republicans are taking a huge risk by vehemently opposing the law. If it does succeed, they will have a lot of questions to answer as to why they refused to help set it up. States who didn’t expand their Medicaid programs will feel increasing pressure to do so. This opposition to Obamacare is a high-risk, high-reward strategy. If the law fails, Republicans will reap massive political and electoral benefits. If it succeeds, the opposite will be true. That gives Republicans even greater incentive to root for the law’s failure. However, don’t confuse that for sabotage. There is an important difference between state’s using their own agency to make political and policy choices and actions done deliberately to undermine the law.