John Boehner and the rest of the Republican leadership are searching for any possible Obamacare-related concession that the Tea Party will see as substantial and President Obama won’t. Defunding or delaying the entire bill meets that first condition, but not the second. A clean debt ceiling increase does the opposite. The problem is, as Greg Sargent points out, there is no middle ground here. Whatever the Tea Party would accept,
President Obama won’t accept and vice versa. Instead, Boehner and Co. have settled on the repeal of the medical device tax, which does just about nothing to substantially undermine Obamacare, but is still supposed to appease the Tea Party. It’s not going to work.
The Tea Party is happy to dismantle any part of the law, so on its own, they support repealing the medical device tax, but they are looking for much, much more out of these fiscal fights. This small gesture doesn’t cut it. The reason it doesn’t cut it though is more complicated than it being only a minor concession. It’s also because it’s a minor concession that helps corporate welfare and does nothing to help those afflicted by the law.
Put yourself in the mind of a Tea Party supporter. You want your representatives to do everything in their power to stop Obamacare – including shutting down the government and risking a possible default. You don’t care about the potential negative side effects; stopping Obamacare is what matters. You also probably think Boehner has no backbone and will eventually cut a terrible deal. You continue to pressure your representative and go to rallies to show that you really care about this, but you know Boehner will probably cave and all you’ll get is a minor concession. Now, you find out that the minor concession you receive is the repeal of a tax on an industry that will significantly benefit from Obamacare. You expected to get very little out of this standoff, but that’s still a terrible outcome. You want small government, but you are also sick of K Street and big business using their money to rig government in their favor. Repealing the medical device tax is a continuation of that. Lobbyists are using grassroots anger to help pad the pockets of big business. You don’t like the medical device tax and understand that repealing it helps unwind a bit of Obamacare, but it does nothing to help main street America. That’s what you really want.
That’s what’s so interesting about the repeal of the medical device tax. It’s a fig leaf to the Tea Party, but it disregards what they really want. Yet, House Republican leaders have settled on it, because they want some concession from the president that relates to Obamacare and Obama signaled an openness to it. But this will not satisfy the Tea Party in any way.
Now, there may not be any concession that Obama would accept that the Tea Party would deem to help everyday Americans. He’s not signing any bill that limits or repeals the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a longtime Tea Party fixation. He’s not going to delay the individual mandate. The Vitter amendment may be the closest thing that would make Tea Party conservatives happy and Obama would sign. Of course, it’s a horrible idea and would quickly lead to an exodus of hill staffers to K Street. But Republicans have spun it as a bill that would eliminate an exemption for lawmakers and their aides at the expense of ordinary Americans. That’s what the Tea Party is looking for if they are going to receive just a minor concession from these fiscal fights. Instead, House Republican leaders are infatuated with repealing a tax on big business. That’s fundamentally misaligned with the Tea Party’s goals regarding Obamacare and yet it has become the GOP’s top demand.