Debating Obamacare Strategy: Defund or Delay?

Posted: Aug 09, 2013 6:05 PM

You'll recall that I spelled out my thoughts on this question in some detail last week, and yesterday I appeared on Fox News with the great Monica Crowley to debate my conclusion.  Monica adheres to the school of thought that defunding Obamacare through the looming temporary budget scrap is the last chance Republicans have to stop the law.  I disagree, arguing that forcing a government shutdown in an inevitably failed attempt to partially strip the law of funding would actually damage the cause of full repeal:

Harry Reid will never, ever allow a Continuing Resolution to pass the Senate if it cuts off funding for Obamacare.  Remember, Democrats' goal in the brewing fight is to undo the sequester and increase spending.  Cutting Obamacare money isn't even on the table.  But even if by some miracle, such a plan narrowly passed the Senate, the president would immediately veto it.  And even if he accidentally signed it, that CR would only defund a fraction of the law; Sen. Tom Coburn recently noted that most of Obamacare's spending is "mandatory," requiring repeal to undo.  While Republicans fought the fruitless "defund" fight, liberal Democrats would eagerly merge their Obamacare messaging with their government shut down messaging, muddying the rhetorical waters to deliberately confuse voters. Currently, Republicans have the political high ground on the former issue, but not the latter.  Moderate Democrats could also vote against Obamacare defunding and use the threat of shutdown as political cover.  Here's what they could tell voters back home: "Yes, Obamacare has its flaws, and I'm in favor of making some adjustments to it, but I voted no because I couldn't go along with Republicans' irresponsible plan to shut down the whole federal government."  This would be a double-whammy for the GOP.  Party-line Democrats could hang the shutdown weight around Republicans' necks -- thus eroding their long-held advantage on Obamacare -- and vulnerable Democrats could wriggle off the hook.  And, again, the (partial) "defund" strategy is doomed to failure.  That's why I called it a "high risk, no reward" proposition during our discussion.  

In my view, the clearly preferable approach is delay, which enjoys the twin benefits of polling well and being plausible.  The public overwhelmingly supports delaying the individual mandate tax, and GOP messaging on security and eligibility verification-related delays practically writes itself.  Republicans should also team up with a growing contingent of Congressional Democrats who agree with Howard Dean that the IPAB rationing board must be repealed.  Force a vote on these issues.  Hold rank-and-file Democrats' feet to the fire by demanding that they go on the record by voting to obstruct these goals, or let Obama to veto them (he'd have no choice, as IPAB is one of the only "cost containment" elements of the law).  If and when that push fails, pummel the bills' opponents for blocking a bipartisan effort that reflects the will of the people.  Similar ads attacking Senator X for refusing to vote for government shutdown would be far, far less effective, to say the least.  Finally, Republicans must hammer away at President Obama's last-minute trap door maneuver that violated the text of his own law in order to exempt members of Congress and their staffers from the law from which average Americans have no escape.  By holding difficult votes on some of the least popular and most unfair elements of Obamacare, Republicans would position themselves well for the 2014 elections.  By the same token, Democrats would like nothing more than for the GOP to embark upon a quixotic and unpopular crusade to close down the federal government over the issue.  In doing so, Republicans would toss a life preserver to a law that is already drowning in its own failure.  Conservatives should magnify and exploit that failure, not distract from it with a risky plan that has zero chance of succeeding.

UPDATES - The Obamacare exchange in deep blue Oregon is short on cash, and won't be fully functional on time.  In other news, the not doctor will see you now. 

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