In the wake of these highly publicized actions, the public already has a sense that this law is not ready for prime time—by the administration’s own admission. A push for a full-year delay of other major provisions is thus seen not as an unusual and politicized concept but rather as a reasonable response to the reality on the ground. A recent 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. In other words, Americans don’t think Republicans should just sit by and watch Obamacare go into effect.
What’s more, a recent Rasmussen poll found that, by a margin of more than 2-to-1 (56 to 26 percent), Americans favor delaying the foundation of Obamacare—the individual mandate, which taxes citizens who do not purchase government-approved insurance. So, if Republicans push to delay the individual mandate, they will have public opinion firmly on their side. And without the mandate, Obamacare will be poised to topple.
The notion of defunding Obamacare gets a very different public reaction. While essentially every poll taken over the past three-and-a-half years has shown that Americans want to see Obamacare repealed, they don’t want to see it defunded. Rather, polls show that Americans oppose defunding Obamacare by large margins—ranging from about 20 to 30 percentage points. Over the past two-and-a-half years, Kaiser has taken eight polls on defunding. On average, those 8 polls have shown 29-point opposition to defunding—61 to 32 percent. A CBS News poll that showed 18-point opposition to Obamacare (51 to 33 percent) showed 20-point opposition to defunding it (55 to 35 percent).
Americans seem to think that defunding sounds like foul play. One Kaiser poll actually asked those 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 gave this as a reason for their opposition, while 59 percent of them listed this as a “major” reason.
Meanwhile, Republicans have already passed a bill, with the support of 22 Democrats, to delay the individual mandate. They have already passed another bill, with the support of five Democrats, to delay Obamacare’s exchanges until such time as the inspector general can certify that they won’t be an open invitation to fraud. Republicans would be wise to make these House-passed bills the centerpiece of their push in the budget battles ahead.
If all or crucial parts of Obamacare are delayed, then the signature legislation of Obama’s presidency will look anything but inevitable—and if it can be delayed once, it can be delayed again and again, and then repealed. President Obama, therefore, will not go along willingly. But if Republicans play their cards right and turn up the political heat on Senate Democrats, especially over the individual mandate, then the president’s coalition could begin to break apart. At that point, he may not have any choice but to go along with delaying major parts of Obamacare.
James C. Capretta is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Jeffrey H. Anderson is executive director of the newly formed 2017 Project, which is working to advance a conservative reform agenda.
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