The Magazine

Don’t Take a Knee, GOP

Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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Fighting the bailout​—​whether by repealing the risk corridors or requiring them to be budget-neutral​—​would help rebut one of the few remaining weapons in the Democrats’ arsenal as they try to defend Obamacare. When Republicans attack Obama’s wildly unpopular overhaul of American medicine, a favorite Democratic counterattack is to say that the GOP just wants to put insurers back in charge of health care. It would be hard for that accusation to stick if Republicans made it clear that they stand on the side of John Q. Taxpayer against the Big Insurance lobby. Republicans’ failure to vote against the bailout makes the Democrats’ charge seem more plausible.

And going after the bailout would strike a blow for the rule of law​—​not only because Obama has used the bailout program as a slush fund to keep his insurance allies quiet when his lawlessness has hurt them, but also because Obama has decided he can appropriate money for the bailout without the aid of Congress. A vote to stop the bailout would be a vote to stop Obama’s unconstitutional power grab.

Doing something that’s anti-Obamacare, anti-cronyism, pro-rule-of-law, politically savvy, and inordinately popular should appeal to Republicans. But in lieu of voting to block the bailout, they’ve offered up various unconvincing excuses for their failure to do so.

Republicans worry that stopping the bailout would raise premiums in the Obamacare exchanges. If so, that would merely prove that insurers were pricing their exchange policies at artificially low levels, counting on a bailout at taxpayer expense. Are Republicans really afraid of being accused of saving taxpayers money in this way? Republicans worry they’ll be accused of hypocrisy for supporting the Medicare Part D risk corridors and opposing Obamacare’s. But Part D’s risk corridors didn’t function as a bailout​—​they didn’t cost taxpayers a dime. Republicans worry that insurers won’t like them if they block the bailout. But are Republicans really more concerned about protecting corporate welfare for insurers than the hard-earned money of taxpayers?

Finally, Republicans worry that Obamacare-supporting Democrats might also vote to end the bailout and thereby give themselves a political edge. But this has the political calculation almost exactly backward. Casting one anti-Obamacare vote isn’t about to save Democrats from a prior vote for Obamacare itself, or from their ongoing support of their party’s signature legislation. For Obamacare-supporting Senate candidates, this issue is particularly toxic. Even if they’re willing to break with the administration and denounce the bailout, they would be wide open to GOP counterattacks: Hey, you finally admitted there are problems with the health care overhaul you helped pass. But the bailout​—​and the rest of Obamacare​—​won’t be stopped so long as Harry Reid controls the Senate, and a vote for you is a vote for Reid.

Instead of needlessly worrying, Republicans should confidently vote to end Obamacare’s taxpayer-funded bailout of insurance companies and thereby give Americans a clearer sense of what GOP members stand for. It’s fine​—​classy even​—​to take a knee with 30 seconds left and the game well in hand. But when there’s still plenty of time left to play, sometimes it’s better to stop overthinking, run the ball off-tackle, and gain all the yardage you can. Doing so might make it look like you really want​—​and deserve​—​to win.

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