The effort by some congressional Republicans to hijack funding for the Affordable Care Act is doomed to end either in futility or disaster. Neither outcome would be good for the nation.
When lawmakers return to Washington Monday from their five-week summer recess, they face two important fall deadlines. First, Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year.
If lawmakers fail to do so by Oct. 1, government shuts down.
Then, in late September or early October, lawmakers must vote to raise the national debt limit so the federal government can pay the debts it already has incurred. If they fail to do so, the nation would default on its debt, and the U.S. economy – and possibly the world’s economy – would tank as debtors lose confidence in the economic integrity of the United States.
As frightening as both these scenarios might sound, some GOP strategists urge using them as leverage to deny funding for the Affordable Care Act – commonly known as Obamacare. The idea is to threaten a government shutdown or a debt default unless funding for Obamacare is stripped from the budget.
Many Republicans are leery of a government shutdown. Ask former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich how that worked out for his party in the ’90s.
But a number of tea party firebrands, most of them in the House, think they could win this standoff. And if they decide not to risk shutting down the government, they could pass a continuing resolution that covers expenses through October and put all their chips on refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
On Monday, House Speaker John Boehner promised a “whale of a fight” over the debt limit, saying he wanted budget cuts greater than the increase in the limit. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor echoed that, calling the debt limit a “good leverage point.”
But the White House is adamant that it won’t play this game.
“We will not negotiate with Republicans in Congress over Congress’ responsibility to pay the bills that Congress has racked up, period,” said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney on Monday.
The notion that foes of Obamacare could finagle its defunding is laughable. Even if the House does manage to pass a bill that strips funding for the Affordable Care Act, the bill’s odds of becoming law would be nill.
It would stand virtually no chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate. And in the remote chance it did, President Obama is certain to veto any bill that nullifies what is likely to be viewed as the most significant accomplishment of his presidency.
Republican foes of Obamacare often try to characterize it as something they can prevent from taking effect. They can’t, it’s the law of the land, passed by Congress, signed by the president and, for the most part, upheld by the Supreme Court.
And many facets of the law will take effect beginning Oct. 1. Once Americans without coverage begin taking advantage of affordable insurance without lifetime caps and available even to those with pre-existing conditions, any effort to derail it will be even harder.
Instead of futile, potentially disastrous efforts to get rid of Obamacare, its foes could do something constructive. They could start proposing ways to improve it – and to help improve the lives of millions of Americans in the process.