Greenberg: How to save Obamacare
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"You have to quit confusing a madness with a mission." -Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear It Away
A glance at the premiums to be charged in those health-insurance exchanges that Obamacare is setting up all across the country reinforces the impression that this whole (un)Affordable Care Act could sink under the sheer weight of its own rules and regulations, vaguenesses and variations, bureaucratic requirements and arbitrary exceptions thereunto.
But there's still a way to save this a-borning monstrosity. However confusing and inchoate Obamacare may be at this point, its supporters can always count on the Republican Party's suicidal impulses to save their favorite program. Because the more self-destructive of the party's leaders -- like Ted Cruz in the Senate and those steering the Republican majority in the House -- have found the perfect way to make Obamacare appear prudent and responsible, reasonable and predictable, despite all outward appearances. How? By comparing it to what its more fanatical opponents would do: Shut down the whole federal government.
That's right. Senator Cruz and headstrong, headlong company are threatening to bring the government of the United States to a standstill if the funds to administer this whole, vast, clanking apparatus remain in the federal budget. What a brilliant strategy. It's almost guaranteed to make Obamacare popular -- as an alternative to no government at all.
If this tactic sounds familiar, it should. Because it's backfired before, notably when Newt Gingrich & (over-reaching) Co. tried it against Bill Clinton in 1995, assuring Clinton's re-election as president in 1996. Barack Obama has got to be hoping the Republicans will fall into the same trap again.
Happily for their party, some of the more sensible Republican presidential hopefuls are showing less than enthusiasm for Ted Cruz's kamikaze politics, including New Jersey's Chris Christie, Wisconsin's Scott Walker and Florida's Jeb Bush. Not to mention the party's leader in the Senate, Kentucky's Mitch McConnell.
There are still some level-headed Republican leaders. You just have to look for them. Because they're almost lost in all the sound and fury from the ideologues in their party. They don't make as much noise as the crazies, but they do make a lot more sense.
Instead of defunding Obamacare, why not dismantle it piece by piece? The same way this administration itself has been doing -- by handing out waivers, postponements and various exemptions to it? By now we've lost count of all the businesses, labor unions, churches, states, Native American tribes and other favored entities released from Obamacare's grip, not to mention members of Congress and their staffs.
The GOP would do well to follow Obama & Co.'s example. It could start by exempting small businesses from Obamacare's provisions. And go on from there. Why exempt only houses of worship, for example, from Obamacare's more onerous requirements and not church-sponsored organizations like hospitals, universities and charities?
And what about the myriad of other conscientious objectors who don't want to be made unwilling accomplices to abortion and sterilization under Obamacare's numerous regulations, whether they're individual citizens (like Catholic doctors and nurses, for example) or businesses (like Hobby Lobby) that have their own faith-based code of ethics?
There are so many folks with consciences of their own out there that, after exempting all of them from Obamacare's provisions, what'd be left of it?
Pass enough exceptions to a rule and --poof! -- the rule itself is gone. Which would be a public service in this case. And it can be accomplished without forcing a showdown in Congress that the Republicans, who control only the House, not the Senate and certainly not the executive branch, are sure to lose. Especially since shutting down the federal government would also pit the Republican Party against American public opinion. Why play into the opposition's hands?
But if you think threatening to shut down the whole government is a sure loser of an idea, it ain't nothin' compared to Republican hard-liners' opposition to comprehensive immigration reform.
Proposing to shut down the government might lose the GOP only the next congressional and presidential elections. In light of how quickly and dramatically America's demographics are changing, opposing immigration reform could cost the GOP not just those elections but the next generation(s) of voters. It's a sure way to transform the Republican majority in the House into a permanent minority in American politics.
Ted Cruz and his Cruzaders may not scare the Democratic leadership in Congress. On the contrary, Harry Reid and his party are doubtless delighted when their opponents resort to these boomerang tactics. But having the once Grand Old Party adopt so self-defeating a "strategy" should certainly scare responsible Republicans.
Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer prize-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.