Today, House Republicans are voting to repeal Obamacare for the 37th time. But there’s actually something new about today’s repeal vote. Republicans believe they have a new weapon to use against Obamacare they didn’t have before: The IRS scandal.
Republican officials are vowing that the IRS story will give them another way to make the case against Obamacare, which they will tie to their broader effort to make implementation problems a major issue in 2014. GOP Rep. Tom Price today introduced the “Keep The IRS Off Your Health Care Act,” which would “prohibit the Internal Revenue Service from implementing or enforcing any provisions of the president’s health care law.” Eric Cantor Tweeted:
Does this have a chance of working, or is this a case where the GOP’s ideological attachment to its Obamacare repeal crusade risks detracting from a political attack that is already pretty strong on its own? Senior White House adviser David Plouffe argues the latter. As he Tweeted:
GOP now using IRS issue to try to undermine health care reform. The overreach begins. Little tolerance for bank shot ideological obsessions
As Brian Beutler notes, the IRS scandal is in a real political sweet spot for Republicans, but it doesn’t have to stay that way, because there’s a real risk the Tea Party will color perceptions of it. Beutler means this in the sense that the genesis of this scandal is that the IRS targeted Tea Party groups, and that the Tea Party’s use of it as a point to rally and organize around could complicate efforts by Republicans to make it into a mainstream scandal that everyone cares about. As Beutler says, “if they allow the right to turn the IRS scandal into a Tea Party Grievance, they’ll own all the hyperbole and unintended consequences that flow forth from that identity, and lose the issue.”
We saw that neatly displayed today when, at a press conference where Mitch McConnell railed against the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, Michele Bachmann happened to mention that lots of voters at home ask her when Republicans are going to impeach Obama already.
That’s where the tying of the IRS scandal to the Affordable Care Act could come in. The IRS story raises serious questions about the abuse of government power — ones the public will readily grasp. But now Republicans are introducing their own Tea Party-infused obsession with Obamacare repeal into the mix. And that obsession sees Obamacare as something tyrannical that must be resisted as long as resistance remains possible, as the perfect symbol of all the ways the Obama presidency represents an existential threat to American freedom.
We saw another sign of this today from John Boehner. Republicans today introduced a new hashtag: #ObamacareInThreeWords — and invited people to play along. The White House weighed in, cleverly, with this: ”It’s. The. Law.” To that, Boehner then responded: “Arrogance of power.” Obamacare, of course, was passed by a democratically elected Congress and signed by a democratically elected president. But Republicans know the base sees it as something fundamentally undemocratic and illegitimate to its core.
The IRS’s conduct was inexcusable and should be fully and completely investigated. But as Alec MacGillis points out in a good piece, the IRS scandal does not make the broader case against liberal governance that Republicans are trying to weave out of it. The effort to tie Obamacare to the IRS story is obviously about bolstering that larger argument. But even if Obamacare remains unpopular, it’s unclear that the American mainstream sees expanding insurance to those who lack it, and reining in insurance company excesses, as an illegitimate exercise of government authority. Tying it to an ongoing scandal — one that by itself has the virtue of being politically very easy to grasp — risks turning the whole argument into something confused and ideological.