Let’s be honest, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay — and Republicans know it.
In spite of the law's relatively low approval ratings, most Americans want to give the law enough time to work. While you may be hard-pressed to find someone who believes that the Affordable Care Act is a perfect piece of legislation, most Americans are not in favor of repealing the law. Furthermore, many states are fully invested in the implementation process and early reports show that the law is working in the states that are committed to its success.
Despite all of this, and despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act was the product of conservative ideas, congressional Republicans continually seek to derail the law. Republicans know that in a few short months, the most important provisions of the law will go into effect, and there will be no turning back. The only real chance Republicans could have to fully repeal the law will be in 2017, if a Republican president is elected. But by that point, the state exchanges will be up and running and millions of currently uninsured Americans will have health insurance. At that point, if Republicans attempt to repeal the law, they will effectively take away insurance from 30 million Americans and even Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) acknowledges that Republicans wouldn't go through with that.
Full repeal of Obamacare is simply not an option.
As a result, in recent weeks House Republicans have focused on a new strategy: delaying implementation of the law’s key provisions.
Republicans are fully aware that President Obama will veto any attempts to subvert his signature piece of domestic legislation, and they know they cannot achieve the necessary two-thirds majority in the Senate to override a presidential veto — so what is the purpose of this strategy? At this point, they are no longer concerned with repealing Obamacare. Their goal is to drive voters to the polls in the midterm elections.
In the 2010 midterm elections, the Tea Party took the country by storm and sparked a surge of Republican victories that were due, at least in part, to opposition towards Obamacare. The election handed the speaker’s gavel to John Boehner, brought us senators such as Rand Paul and Mike Lee, and single-handedly changed the trajectory of the Obama presidency. While the Tea Party had a major impact on the national stage, it saw its biggest victories at the state and local levels where Republicans gained control of 25 state legislatures and resulted in a net gain of six Republican governors.
And as we have seen in states like North Carolina and Michigan, the rise of Republican leaders at the state and local level has led to substantive policy changes that have radically transformed these once-moderate states. Recognizing this, the Republican Party is hoping to gain even more ground at the local, state, and national level in 2014. And earlier this month, they made it clear that they will do so by returning to their 2010 political playbook.
In a rare moment of political brilliance, House Republicans turned the tables on the Obama administration’s decision to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate. Led by Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), House Republicans sold the idea that President Obama was prioritizing the needs of corporations over those of the middle class. Using this argument, the House majority passed a bill to delay the individual mandate for private citizens in the name of "equal justice," even gaining the support of 22 Democrats.
In essence, this bill is no different from the previous 40 attempts to fully repeal the Affordable Care Act. Anyone who has been following the Obamacare saga knows that the law’s success rests almost entirely on the implementation of the individual mandate, so there is virtually no chance that the president will approve a bill that delays the mandate. However, the Republicans are (shockingly) playing smart politics here. They are able to portray themselves as the champions of the middle class while they chide President Obama for giving corporations a break — my, how the tables have turned.
But the strategy may be short-lived.
Republican senators such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have decided to take things one step further by threatening to shut down the government if Congress does not agree to defund Obamacare. But in doing so, they have alienated members of their own party such as Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who call the move unachievable, dishonest, and the "dumbest thing [they've] ever heard".
In fact, these extreme threats to shut down the government may ultimately undermine the entire GOP midterm election strategy. Threatening to shut down the government is "a good way for Republicans to lose the House," Coburn said. "It’s a terribly dangerous and not successful strategy. You’re going to set an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve. It’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t.”
So, thanks to a few extreme senators, it is unclear whether the Republican Party's opposition to Obamacare will embolden or dissuade midterm voters. But while politicians in D.C. are wrangling with one another, states such as California, New York, Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire, and dozens more are diligently preparing to launch their state health exchanges.
While no one really knows how the Affordable Care Act will look 10 years from now, its fundamental premise — the idea that all Americans should have access to affordable health insurance — is here to stay.