Nothing is free in politics, but there is some question when you pay the price.
That's been a saying of mine for many years, though I may have unconsciously plagiarized it from someone else. I think it applies to Obamacare.
My American Enterprise Institute colleague Norman Ornstein has been shellacking Republicans for trying to undercut the implementation of the Obama health care legislation. He calls it "simply unacceptable, even contemptible."
He points out that Republicans in the past haven't tried to undercut or derail major legislation of this sort.
That's correct, as a matter of history. You won't find any concerted drive to repeal and replace Social Security after it was enacted in 1935, or Medicare after it was passed in 1965. In contrast, Republicans proclaim they want to repeal and replace Obamacare.
They don't agree on tactics. Some Republicans want to vote to defund Obamacare spending while continuing to fund the government otherwise. Others argue that would be a futile gesture and politically damaging.
The two sides have taken to calling each other names -- the suicide caucus and the surrender caucus. But both want to get rid of Obamacare because they think it's bad for the country.
The so-called surrender caucus is surely correct in predicting that Barack Obama and the Democratic-majority Senate will never allow the defunding of Obamacare. The so-called suicide caucus is right to point out that government shutdowns are not fatal to congressional Republicans, who maintained their congressional majorities after the shutdowns in the Clinton years.
Other points are more problematic. The defunders argue that once Obamacare subsidies go out, people will get hooked on them and support for repeal will tank. Their critics argue that there may be so many glitches (Obama's word) in the rollout of the health insurance exchanges that support will fall below the already low levels.
The fact is that no one knows for sure. But whatever happens, there are good reasons for Republicans to regard Obamacare as a legitimate target.
One is that, unlike Social Security and Medicare, the law was passed by Democrats only, with no bipartisan consultation. Democrats could do that only because accidents -- like the later overturned prosecution of Alaska Republican Ted Stevens -- gave them a 60-vote supermajority in the Senate.
That's a contrast with the 2003 Medicare Part D prescription drug bill, which as Ornstein points out Democrats didn't try to undercut after it was passed. But Democrats were widely consulted during the legislative process, and a non-trivial number of them voted for the final version.