When John A. Boehner flatly declared right after the elections that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” it sounded like a clear curtain-pulling on the Republican crusade to repeal or gut the health care overhaul. Getting the law off the books, or at least neutralizing it, was still on the party’s wish list, he said. But the president’s re-election and the diminished GOP congressional ranks had clearly rendered that goal no longer worth the party’s time for pursuing.
Four months later, the speaker’s guidance is no longer operative. Republicans are going to mount attacks on the statute during both this week’s Senate debate on the appropriations package for the rest of this fiscal year, and next week’s House debate on a budget blueprint for the next fiscal year.
First of all, the spending bill coming before the Senate tonight looks very likely to match the companion the House passed last week in one surprising way — by denying a White House’s request for a special $949 million line-item to help the states ready their new medical insurance exchanges, which are supposed to be ready to enroll customers by October. Putting the money in would be a bloody shirt to the GOP.
Beyond that, a growing roster of tea party conservative senators, led by Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, are insisting they get a vote on the idea of preventing HHS from spending even the money it’s already got carrying out that law of the land.
Their amendment is sure to fail, not only because all 55 Democrats will oppose it but also because more than a few Republican mainstreamers really want to stop fighting the last war. But the roll call will put plenty of GOP senators — especially the ones worried about 2014 primary challenges on their right — in an awkward spot.
The same will be true for some politically vulnerable House Republicans when they’re called on to vote next week on the budget outline that Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin will formally unveil tonight after sketching it out on TV over the weekend. The once-and-future aspirant for national office faced a damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t predicament over how to handle Obamacare in his budget. Had he not assumed the law’s repeal as part of his calculus, dozens of his most conservative colleagues (and thousands of donors and talk-radio callers on the right) would have of been infuriated at the symbolic capitulation.
But by assuming the law comes to an early end — knowing full well that’s not going to happen — Ryan is putting all of his GOP colleagues in a position of voting for a plan that’s supported by some serious smoke and mirrors, and applies its accounting legerdemain inconsistently, to boot.
The very real risk is that his budget can be credibly derided as something other than the serious document for serious times, which he and the rest of the House GOP have claimed in the past. His plan still assumes the $716 billion in Medicare savings that Obamacare would put into effect, which the Romney/Ryan ticket railed against so often last fall, and it also assumes the revenue promised by the January tax hikes, even though all Republicans would just as soon those were also repealed.
Beyond all that, the Budget chairman’s budget claims to reach a balance within 10 years, even without any new taxes and without the several hundred billions in savings that, by consensus view of the nonpartisan budget scorekeepers, Obamacare promises in the coming decade.