Welcome to the nadir of the American democratic experiment, at least in recent memory: Despite four years of ginned-up apoplexy over the Affordable Care Act – the noxious town halls of 2009; “death panels”; Scott Brown’s election; the 2010 midterms; the 40-odd dead-end House repeal votes; the Supreme Court ruling; the presidential election of 2012 – it’s the law of the land. Republicans have pursued every avenue, salted every field, burned every bridge, left no stone unturned, and still lost.
In a healthy, functioning political system, this would be the part where the losing side acknowledges its defeat and tries to improve the law or better facilitate its implementation. But that would require actual governing rather than demagoguery. And needless to say, these are not healthy, functional times. So instead, a group of right-wing congressmen and senators – among them presidential aspirants including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas and our own Marco Rubio – have threatened to shut down the government if the Affordable Care Act is not defunded. The idea is to present Obama with a Hobson’s choice: give up his signature legislative achievement or allow Rubio’s gang to wreak havoc on the still-fragile economy.
The correct word for that is blackmail.
For perspective on how asinine this is, consider this: The Republicans control one-third of one-half of the federal government, and even that less by virtue of popular strength than the oddities of congressional boundaries (in fact, more people voted for Democrats in congressional elections last year than Republicans). They can’t defeat the Affordable Care Act through the normal channels. So they’re threatening to, in effect, shoot the hostage to get their way.
The good news is it’s not going to work. Already Republican leaders have shot it down as both impractical (much of the law’s funding is automatic) and bad political strategy (a Republican-led government shutdown may be the Democrats’ best hope of retaking the House next year).
There are two driving motivations for this latest temper tantrum. The first, and most patently obvious, is for Rubio, Cruz and Paul to ingratiate themselves to primary voters and right-wing talk show hosts ahead of 2016. The second is fear: fear that the law, which takes full effect in January, will actually work. Fear that once people are given better access to decent, affordable health care no matter their pre-existing condition, repeal will become a Sisyphean task. Fear that Obamacare, as they derisively dubbed it, will become as ingrained in the American social fabric as Medicare is today – open to revision, but not evisceration – and another Democratic president will cement a lasting, irrevocable legacy, one that now bears his name. Fear that health care will become and remain a right, not a privilege.
You can sense that same desperation emanating from Tallahassee. Last week, Florida insurance regulators announced that premiums on the state’s health care exchange would rise on the order of 30 to 40 percent compared to similar plans today. This number, however, is ethereal horseshit, no realer than the Tooth Fairy: The baseline is a “hypothetical” plan that doesn’t actually exist anywhere in the state; the projections don’t take into account the law’s considerable tax credits and subsidies; and these rates have yet to be approved by federal regulators. In fact, in the 11 states with federally approved exchanges, premiums are significantly lower than what the Congressional Budget Office originally projected.
What’s more, state lawmakers will require insurers to tell customers how much of premium increases are due to Obamacare, but those customers won’t know a big reason why: This same legislature, which has declined to accept $51 billion in federal money to extend Medicaid coverage, also forbade the Office of Insurance Regulation from even negotiating for better rates on the exchange.
In other words, the legislature concocted a scheme to raise insurance rates, then ordered insurance companies to blame Obama, all while refusing to take federal funds to cover the uninsured and needy. That’s petty obstinacy, not good governance – and sadly, it’s the modus operandi of the modern Republican Party, both in Washington and Tallahassee.