The Obamacare Fight May Not Be Over

Yesterday, Steve Benen wrote a post titled, “ACA repeal crusade over, ‘delusional folks notwithstanding’.” Here’s part of it:

Last year, Republican officials up and down the ballot argued the 2012 elections were the party’s last chance to derail the Affordable Care Act. Once they lost those elections, Republican officials declared, “Never mind what we said before; this budget fight really is our last chance to derail the Affordable Care Act.” And now they’ve lost this round, too.

There won’t be a third. The repeal crusade was a flop.

Sure, it’s possible congressional Republicans will vote a few more times to gut the law — at last count, I think we’re up to 46 repeal votes in the House — but it’s slowly dawning on the party that their dream will not be realized.

They can try to go through the motions in the months and years ahead, but it’s more likely to create eye-rolling than results.

I’m so tempted to agree with Benen. The law has been through so many challenges the past couple of years that it is just about set in stone. But I see one more possibility for how Republicans could derail it:

We’re two weeks into the open-enrollment period for Obamacare. This period lasts until March 31 and it’s the time when individuals can sign up for health insurance on the exchanges. On January 1st, Obamacare goes live and those health plans kick in. That’s when the law really starts. Right now, we’re still in the sign-up phase. So far, that sign-up phase has been an unmitigated disaster. If you’re an Obamacare supporter, you should be very, very concerned. By all accounts, the flaws in the online exchanges aren’t a result of traffic overload or glitches. They are much more systemic and widespread and will require a huge amount of work to get them operating properly. The Administration still has a lot of work to do.

In addition, the government shutdown has masked these problem. Some people think the problems are actually a result of the shutdown, which isn’t true. Once we’re past these fiscal fights, the media’s attention will turn to the mass problems with the exchanges. People will start realizing that there are serious issues here.

The question is how long they will last. If December comes and there are still issues, the Administration should become very worried that people will start seriously turning against the law. Of course, it will have nothing to do with the policy behind Obamacare, but a technical failure can still switch public opinion fast. If people lose faith that the government has the capability to implement it. they may give up. Imagine January 1st coming and people still having trouble signing up on healthcare.gov. That would be a colossal failure.

Two weeks after that, the continuing resolution in the Reid-McConnell plan expires. This would give Cruz and Co. yet another chance to try to spur grassroots support and demand a delay in Obamacare in exchange for funding the government. That plan blew up in their faces the last couple of weeks, but the Tea Party would have a lot more support this time around. Independents may start looking at those demand as reasonable if the exchanges are still having major troubles.

This is the final challenge for Obamacare: does it work? For months, the focus has been on rate-shock and whether the policy would help most Americans. Few people wondered whether the exchanges would actually function correctly. Now, that question is at the forefront of the debate. Under normal circumstances, a Democratic president and Democratic Senate would ensure that the law has plenty of time to work out its kinks, well past January 1st if necessary. They would accept the bad media coverage and keep working on healthcare.gov until they got it right. But the McConnell-Reid deal presents a potential opportunity for Cruz and the Tea Party to mount a grassroots effort that really could force the president to reexamine his greatest legislative achievement. It’s timed perfectly for Republicans to mount a serious challenge to defund or delay the law on legitimate grounds. The Administration ultimately controls the viability of this challenge, but the McConnell-Reid makes it possible. The Obamacare battles never seem to end.

Credit to Ted Cruz

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As you’ve no doubt heard, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is performing a pre-arraigned filibuster (I’m going to call it a filibuster) against the House passed continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare. Cruz has no chance of stopping the actual bill from moving forward since Republicans are not going to vote against cloture (allowing debate on the bill to proceed) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will strip the defunding language from it in an amendment that only needs 51 votes to pass (can’t be filibustered). Cruz’s filibuster here is entirely a political stunt. But that’s part of what makes it so impressive.

Many conservatives today are upset that the mainstream media isn’t paying as much attention to Cruz as it did to Wendy Davis’s filibuster in the Texas State Senate in June. As you may remember, Davis’s filibuster was futile too. She was able to run out the clock on that legislative session, but soon after, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) called for another special legislative session and the bill passed anyways. Davis was soon a national liberal hero and is considering running for governor.

Here’s the thing: Cruz’s filibuster is more impressive than Davis’s. 

Both Cruz and Davis were standing up for something they believed in, though they knew they were doomed to fail. They had grassroots supports and were entirely committed to their goals. However, Davis had the backing of the Democratic establishment and her Democratic colleagues. She didn’t risk alienating her fellow Democrats. On the contrary, it was certain to make her a national sensation.

The same is not true of Cruz. Before he began his filibuster, his Republican colleagues pleaded with him not to waste time and talk all night. They told him that doing so was give the House basically no time to pass a CR once the bill got back to them. It would hurt the party politically. Those senators have a point. That may happen, but Cruz ignored them anyways.

He’s also alienating Republican donors, something he’ll need if he runs for president in 2016. Those donors see Cruz’s filibuster as a cheap, parliamentary trick that accomplishes nothing and eventually puts the House in a tight stop.

Furthermore, his filibuster increases the chance of a government shutdown, as the party leadership pointed out to him. Like everyone, Cruz does not want a government shutdown, but he also knows this is his last chance to stop Obamacare. His filibuster will have no tangible accomplishments, but increases the risk of a fiscal crisis.

And despite all of that opposition – from the Republican establishment, Republican leadership and Republican donors – Cruz decided to filibuster the bill. He decided to risk alienating those key supporters to demonstrate his opposition to Obamacare. Say what you will about Cruz doing so just to gain political points, but he’s also risking a lot. He was already adored by the base. If he hadn’t performed this filibuster, the Tea Party may have been disappointed in him, but they wouldn’t have turned on him. He could’ve talked for a couple of hours, yielded the floor and allowed the vote on cloture to proceed. It wouldn’t have angered McConnell and donors and it would have made his point.But he decided to talk all night.

The base is going to LOVE this and rightfully so. Cruz really is bucking the establishment to stand up for what he believes in. Because of that, it’s unclear if his filibuster helps his presidential ambitions. It’s certainly not a good policy move. Liberals fell in love with Wendy Davis, but she never had to choose between siding with her colleagues and donors or standing up for what she believed in. Cruz had that choice and he chose to stick by his principles. He deserves credit for that.

It’s All About Obamacare

Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein penned a piece this morning that misses the main reason why we are rapidly heading towards a government shutdown. Klein compares the current negotiations over the continuing resolution to the ones that took place in 2011 and sees two main differences:

1) In 2011, the White House knew whom to deal with. Back then, House Speaker John Boehner actually did seem reasonably in sync with his party on these issues, and so the White House was able to negotiate with Republican leadership on a deal. Today, the relevant negotiations are happening in the Republican Party, with GOP leadership trying to fight conservatives who want to shut down the government, and no one knows who actually has the power to cut and close a deal.

2) In 2011, the White House was willing to deal. The White House believed, in its gut, that Republicans had been given a mandate in the 2010 elections to extract exactly the kind of concessions they were demanding. In addition, the White House believed President Obama would be a likelier bet for reelection if he could cut a “grand bargain” with the newly resurgent Republicans, taking their key issue away from them.

This year, it’s the White House that won the last election, and so they see no popular legitimacy behind Republican demands. In addition, they are deeply, fervently committed to the proposition that they will never again negotiate around the debt ceiling, as that’s a tactic history will judge them harshly for repeatedly enabling. So even if Boehner could cut a deal on the debt ceiling, the White House isn’t open to negotiating.

Both of those points are correct, but they obscure the fact that for House Republicans, these fiscal fights are all about Obamacare. That’s been the key all along.

There is an inherent contradiction in the Republican belief that Obamacare will be an unmitigated disaster and their desperate, politically suicidal attempts to defund the law. If the law is going to catastrophically fail, the Republican Party should have no problem waiting for that to happen and use it to take back the Presidency and Senate in 2016. If they really believe it will be such a disaster, then they shouldn’t threaten a government shutdown over it. But House Republicans are making that threat and many are willing to follow through on it. That indicates that Republicans are worried that Obamacare will succeed and that’s why yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “this short-term budget represents our last chance to stop it.”

In fact, the Republican Pary’s last chance to stop the law was the 2012 election. This fight is over and Obama has won. He’s not going to delay the law or defund it, but House Republicans are so against it that they will do anything to stop it. As Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said today, “Obamacare is worth throwing yourself on the sword.”

The GOP doesn’t care about cutting spending, approving the Keystone XL pipeline or cutting taxes. Right now, it’s all about Obamacare.

Two year ago, the White House and Republicans could negotiate with each other because both had something the other wanted and were willing to compromise (barely). The same is true today, but the White House will never, ever defund the law and House Republicans will not accept any deal that doesn’t do that.

That’s what really makes the 2013 showdown different from 2011.