Politics

04.07.14

The House GOP’s Down-Low, Backhanded Endorsement of Obamacare

Even as they publicly decry the president’s health care law, the moves they’re making behind closed doors reveal they may be resigned to its existence.

It’s not all that often that the lead piece on the Drudge Report attacks Republicans, so it’s worth a little savoring when it happens, and this one is especially delectable. The link was to an AP story reporting that two weeks ago, House Republicans stealthily voted for a measure that changed an aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

What? I know. In other words, Congress amends bill it passed a few years ago. In a normal moral universe, this would scarcely qualify as news. But when we speak of the House of Representatives, we are in the modern Republican Party’s moral universe, and there, the rules are different.

You see, by agreeing to amend Obamacare, Republicans are acknowledging the law’s existence and legitimacy. The only things they’re supposed to be doing with Obamacare are burning copies of it on the Capitol steps and voting to repeal it. But here they’ve done the exact opposite. And what made it even worse was the way they did it. The change was very quietly tucked into a larger bill, the Medicare “doc fix,” which helps payments to doctors who serve Medicare patients keep pace with inflation. Only House majority leadership—the Republicans—can do that. And then, to make matters still worse, the yellow-bellied quislings passed the thing by voice vote, so no one had to be on the record.

The change, by the way, removes deductible caps from certain plans small businesses can offer their employees. This allows the employers, according to the AP, to offer cheaper plans to individuals who also have health savings accounts, which conservatives have been pushing for 15 or 20 years. Only around 30 percent of American businesses offer HSAs, and large employers are more likely to include them than small ones. Hence, the target of opportunity for HSA partisans. So the change accomplished a GOP policy goal. But funny thing: apparently not a single Republican member of the House trumpeted the change or even said a word about it when the vote took place March 27.

It hardly matters what the change was. It could have been that the purchase of armor-piercing bullets was now covered under Obamacare and it wouldn’t help: The fact that Republicans used the ACA as the vehicle with which to make this change was the crime. Oh, did I have a jolly afternoon reading through the comment thread at Free Republic:

“The uniparty at work!”

“Appeasement Weasels.”

“Voice vote.”

“And I’ll say it right now: The Republican Party does not want Obamacare to be repealed and will not support candidates who do. I’d love to have someone come back around November 1, 2016 and show me that this prediction was wrong.”

“The G.O.P. (GAVE OBAMA POWER) is the party that created RomneyCARE/ObamaCARE 
and imposed it FOR ALL, FOR ROMNEY, FOREVER.”

“Bastards!”

You get the picture. So do we take away from this?

I think we take away from it that some of these “Freepers,” as they’re called on that site, are on to something. Republicans don’t really want to repeal Obamacare. Or no: they almost certainly want to, but they know they probably can’t. So even while they froth away for the cameras and town-hall meetings, there’s another, smaller, darker part of them that knows the truth, or the likely truth, which is that Hillary Clinton appears likely to be the next president, the Democrats will recapture the Senate in 2016 or vastly increase their majority if they didn’t lose it in 2014, and by the end of the next President Clinton’s first term, Obamacare will be nailed to the floor.

Remember, this happened on March 27: four days before the ACA’s enrollment deadline arrived, and therefore well before anyone knew the number would hit the target of seven million. So they were out there, on Fox and on all those acidic radio shows they do, talking about what a world-historical failure Obamacare was going to prove to be in just a matter of days, while meanwhile, with no one recording the roll call, they were buying shares of it.

This brings to mind some things I’ve read about civil rights and the Dixiecrats. The liberal Northern senators used to chat among themselves in the early and mid-1960s, wondering which of their Southern colleagues really and truly believed the racist pollution that poured out of their mouths. The consensus at the time was that Strom Thurmond really did. Richard Russell. Most of them, however, sorta-kinda believed it but just said it, because they knew that as long as they were 110 percenters on what they called “the n——-r question,” they could get reelected ‘til the end of time provided they weren’t caught with the proverbial live boy or dead girl.

There’s a story in Phil Hart’s biography—Hart, of Michigan, was one of the Senate’s most liberal members, and one of the key movers of the Voting Rights Act—about an encounter he had with Mississippi’s James Eastland. Eastland was as hard-shell as they came. But somehow, he and Hart became friends anyway. And so one day on the Senate floor, after delivering himself of a hideous racial tirade, as he walked back toward his desk, Eastland caught his friend Hart’s eye and winked.

Who knows how much of that kind of winking is taking place on the House floor now? “Hey, Steny, I don’t really mean everything I say ’bout y’all, but old so-and-so from the next district over just gave one helluva stemwinder about health care the other day, and I can’t let myself be out-Obamacared, know’ut I mean?” Oh, of course some Republicans are fire-breathers and diehards. But others seem to understand that if you’re going to try to have actual policy impact in the real world, you have to play ball in the real world. And the real world is Obamacare.

The latter group is probably a minority now. But I’m betting that one day they’ll be the majority, and that that day is going to come sooner than most people think. Maybe even—although they sure won’t admit it—before November.