Defund Obamacare? This is the Wrong Time to Be Playing Political Games

The House of Representatives recently passed the bill to fund the government allowing it to pay its bills. However, this funding measure passed with a slight addendum, one that is not new to the House’s pattern: a provision to defund Obamacare. The House is spinning its wheels by adding this provision to the federal funding bill given the imminence of the Senate stripping the provision, sending it back to the House and the game of chicken continuing as Congress approaches yet another proverbial financial cliff. This cliff is the shutting down of the federal government if bills aren’t paid. There certainly are times to play politics and pressure the other side of an issue, but this is not one of those times for two key reasons.

And these two reasons will lead to very real, negative outcomes for Congress.

Congressional division is the first reason this is the wrong time to play politics with the government funding bill. The recent lack of Congressional effectiveness, efficiency, and cohesion underscores the reality of the turbulent political environment in Washington right now. This reality furthers the point that these rare opportunities to collaborate across the aisle should be seized and touted as victory. However, the House’s latest attempt in a series of efforts to abolish Obamacare through a “rider” placed on the funding bill, which is a bill as detached from partisan politics as possible, is playing with fire. While this symbolic repetition of over 40 attempts to kill the president’s health care law has been historically fruitless, the latest attempt is on an entirely new level of political suicide.

Internal party division is the second reason this is the wrong time to make a political stand. Senators McCain, Alexander, Cornyn and other tenured Senate Republicans oppose this measure and have claimed to never play politics with such a serious timeframe and issue, even though they certainly don’t support the health care law. Their tempered approach to this instance emphasizes their experience in determining which battles are worth fighting and when, is the kind of leadership the party needs.

Nonetheless, the party is now being undermined in the Senate by the radical Republican fringe, with Senator Cruz leading the charge for a glorified line item in his inevitable 2016 bid for president. It might sound something like, “Even when all the odds were stacked up against me and my own party members fell away and withdrew their support, I stood up for what’s right. I stood up for what no one else had the courage to do. I stood up against the partisan, Washington machine. I stood up for you.” 

The irony of a statement like that is that knowing when to fight and when to work as a party and broader unit for the ultimate efficiency of the government is the true measure of being an effective politician. Thus, by speaking for 21 hours on the Senate floor attempting to blockade the measure that would lead to action on the House’s proposal, he was really speaking for the extreme, non-representative faction of the Republican Party, known as the Tea Party. And speaking for such a special interest, he was amalgamating with Washington politics-as-usual and not standing for political compromise and common sense. Such a move by Senator Cruz and House Republicans is a derivation of a simple lack of political savvy and appreciation for the way the public views Congress right now. This lack of appreciation for public opinion of Congress has permeated both parties and policy-making branches of government. "Compromise" would be standing for something different than current Washington politics.

Obamacare is not going anywhere as long as President Obama is in office. But this is a golden opportunity for Republicans to re-brand and show they are the party with answers and ways to get there. A Republican-sponsored recognition of that reality would win bipartisan support for congressional republicans, help mend the deep division between the parties and chambers of Congress, and ultimately provide Republicans with a legitimate chance of being viable candidates in 2016 as the agents of substantive change. But at this rate, that future is looking bleak.

There are three key outcomes that are all (perhaps simultaneously) likely if the chambers of Congress do not reach a compromise before next weekend. The first is that there would be a public backlash against congress for another instance of the inability to function properly leading to ever decreasing congressional approval ratings. The second is that the federal government would actually shutdown leaving thousands of people indefinitely out of work and the entire country without a functioning federal government.

And finally, this would watermark the latest chapter of continued political upheaval in a time when American citizens are yearning for some semblance of political leadership, which is lacking from both the legislative and executive branches.

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Philip Waggoner

Doctoral student in political science, studying at the University of Houston.

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