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Delay Is Better than Defund

12:00 AM, Jul 30, 2013 • By JEFFREY H. ANDERSON
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There has been a fair amount of discussion in recent days about whether Republicans should try to defund Obamacare. The instinct to do something about Obamacare is right. But Republicans can learn something from the American people. As polls have consistently shown, Americans like the idea of delaying—and of repealing—Obamacare. But they don’t like the sound of defunding it. In terms of policy, either approach would produce essentially the same result. (Whether the Obamacare exchanges are delayed for a year, or its exchange subsidies are defunded for a year, the result would be no taxpayer-funded Obamacare exchanges next year.) Politically, however, framing the effort as one of delaying rather than defunding stands a far greater chance of success. 

Obamacare

Over the past two-and-a-half years, Kaiser’s Health Tracking Poll has repeatedly asked Americans what they think of Obamacare and of efforts to defund it. On average, the eight Kaiser polls that have asked these two questions have found that Americans oppose Obamacare by 5 percentage points—45 to 40 percent. Yet they oppose defunding Obamacare by 29 points—61 to 32 percent. Kaiser’s most recent poll that addresses defunding (its April 2013 poll) shows no change in this steady judgment: Americans oppose Obamacare by 5 points (40 to 35 percent), but also oppose defunding it by 27 points (58 to 31 percent).  

To be sure, Kaiser is rather clearly pro-Obamacare, and the Kaiser poll is a consistent outlier that reliably shows more support for Obama’s centerpiece legislation than one sees elsewhere. Still, it’s striking how the poll’s respondents are so much more likely to oppose Obamacare than to embrace defunding it. Even if one assumes (and this is probably a pretty fair assumption) that Kaiser’s polling is off by, say, 10 points in Obamacare’s favor—meaning that, based on Kaiser’s April poll, Americans actually oppose Obamacare by 15 points (rather than 5) and oppose defunding it by 17 points (rather than 27)—the picture remains clear: Americans dislike Obamacare, but they don’t want it to be defunded. 

A CBS News poll from February 2011—the only other published poll of which I’m aware that has asked about defunding—produced similar results. That poll showed Obamacare in an 18-point hole—with only 33 percent of respondents supporting it and 51 percent opposing it. Yet it nevertheless showed that, by a margin of 20 points (55 to 35 percent), respondents didn’t want Obamacare to be defunded.   

Neither Kaiser’s nor CBS’s question on defunding seems overly leading or obviously unfair. Rather, Americans seem to view defunding as being improper and/or inconsistent with basic rules of sound governance. The February 2011 Kaiser poll actually asked those respondents who opposed defunding why they opposed it, offering four potential reasons. The most commonly picked reason (and also the most commonly listed “major” reason) was this:  “The appropriate way to stop a law is by voting to repeal it. Using the budget process to stop a law is just not the way our government should work.” Almost four in five people (79 percent) who were opposed to defunding listed this as a reason for their opposition, while 59 percent of them listed this as a “major” reason.  

But Americans do want Republicans to try to stop or delay Obamacare. The April Kaiser poll asked whether Obamacare’s opponents “should continue trying to change or stop it, so it has less impact on taxpayers, employers, and health care providers,” or “should accept that it is now the law of the land and stop trying to block the law’s implementation.” By a 20-point margin (53 to 33 percent), respondents said that Obamacare’s opponents should keep trying to impede its implementation.  

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