Contrary to many pundits’ expectations, congressional Republicans seem to have zigzagged their way to a reasonable position in the ongoing budget battles. To be sure, their clumsy manner of getting there has helped to obscure this conclusion. Nevertheless, the GOP has the better argument in the battles over funding the federal government and raising the debt limit.
Perhaps the strongest testament to this is the dogged determination of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats to misrepresent the Republican position. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew alleges that Republicans have offered “this ridiculous choice where either you repeal the Affordable Care Act”—i.e., Obamacare—“or you shut down the government or default on the United States.” House minority leader Nancy Pelosi says that while President Obama has been “extending the hand of friendship over and over,” ungrateful Republicans have responded by saying that “we will only open [the] government if you eliminate the Affordable Care Act.” Senator Chuck Schumer claims that House speaker John “Boehner said on TV . . . ‘Repeal Obamacare or we’re not dealing with the debt ceiling.’ ”
In fact, Boehner said nothing of the sort. House Republicans are not making a budget deal (or a debt-limit increase) contingent on repealing Obamacare. They are not making it contingent on defunding Obamacare. They are not even making it contingent on delaying all of Obamacare. Rather, they are making it contingent upon delaying, for one year, the highly unpopular individual mandate—and eliminating the lawless Obamacare congressional carve-out. House Republicans passed legislation that would fund the government under those conditions, and they did so before the shutdown.
One can understand why the Obama administration doesn’t want the Republicans’ actual position to come to light. For the more that the American people understand what the Republican position actually is, the more likely they are to side with the GOP in this standoff. That, in turn, means it’s important for Republicans to emphasize their position more consistently and assertively than they have to date.
Of all of the unpopular aspects of the 2,700-page behemoth that is Obamacare, the individual mandate has long been the most hated. Set to kick off on January 1 (Happy New Year!), the individual mandate commands Americans, for the first time in the country’s history, to buy a product or service of the federal government’s choosing, merely as a condition of living in the United States. The Democrats claimed that their unprecedented mandate was constitutional under Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce—a claim that would have transformed that clause into a power to compel commerce. The Supreme Court rejected that argument. The mandate survived only because the Court ruled—in a 5-4 vote—that the mandate could be construed as a novel tax of sorts (which Obama had emphatically denied that it was) and could therefore be upheld under Congress’s taxing power. Mitt Romney—who once famously said, “I like mandates”—didn’t press the issue during the presidential campaign. But the mandate is now back in the public eye, and the public appears to loathe it as much as ever. For the individual mandate is the aspect of Obamacare that makes its architecture of coercion most evident to ordinary Americans.
If the looming implementation of the individual mandate weren’t already objectionable enough, Obama announced on the cusp of the July 4 weekend—via an underling’s blog post—that he was delaying Obamacare’s employer mandate for a year. Obama had no legal authority to do this, yet he did it anyway. House Republicans responded by passing a bill to delay the individual mandate—lawfully—and were joined by 22 Democrats. The bill passed by a margin of 77 votes, or 70 more than the margin by which House Democrats passed Obamacare. But Majority Leader Harry Reid has refused to bring the bill to the Senate floor, and Obama has said he’d veto it.
Obama then pushed the Office of Personnel Management to carve out an exception to Obamacare for the benefit of congressional members and their staffs. Under this exception—a lawless departure from Obamacare’s written text—those in Congress will be the only Americans who will get to use employer health care contributions to buy insurance through Obamacare’s regular exchanges. Staffers making in excess of $150,000 will thus get their Obamacare-based insurance subsidized by taxpayers, while (according to Kaiser Health’s Obamacare calculator) a typical 30-year-old making $35,000 in, say, Ohio, won’t get a penny’s worth of subsidies. (Of course, that 30-year-old could always rectify this by going to work on Capitol Hill.)