June 17, 2013

Could the Republican need to obsessively oppose Obamacare, even if the alternative is something that they themselves would regard as improving it, run smack into the priorities of their allies — and leave clergy, of all groups, paying the price?

That’s the potential outcome of a good reported story by Ann Kim and Ed Kilgore today. The story is that the details of the Affordable Care Act are causing trouble for clergy and other church employees:

Without the requested “fix,” as many as one million clergy members and church employees now enrolled in church-sponsored health plans could soon face the choice of leaving these plans (designed to meet their unique needs, such as the frequent reassignment of clergy across state lines) or losing access to the tax subsidies provided by the ACA to help lower-to-middle income Americans purchase insurance.

It’s entirely normal for legislative “fixes” to be needed once a new law gets implemented. Bill authors want to get everything right, but they also want to move legislation through Congress as quickly as they can, and sometimes no one sees that an obscure provision will prove problematic — or that a major provision needs exceptions that were not obvious at the time.

What’s different here is that Republicans actively want the Affordable Care Act to fail — and so have resisted any efforts to fix problems (and have done whatever they can to block implementation). Everyone should realize how radical that is: legislative fixes are often routine, while massive partisan resistance to successful implementation of a law is not routine at all.

In this case, refusing a legislative fix will put Republicans on the opposite side of church groups who are often GOP allies. This is not the first time this has happened with the health law. As the New York Times reported recently, other Republican-aligned interest groups who want the law fixed in ways that will benefit them are discovering that the GOP’s full blown commitment to repeal and nothing else is actually harmful to their own interests.

The question is this: At some point, will the obsessive chase after what sells well in the conservative marketplace (Obamacare repeal) at the expense of the substantive interests of GOP-aligned groups push some of those groups to  leave the Republican coalition? That may be the biggest electoral danger to the Republicans from their own extremism — not that it will scare individual voters, but that it will make the party so unable to deliver for its allies that they will walk.

I’ve always thought the most likely to give up on the Republicans were Main Street types — doctors, for example, who didn’t have a party sticking up for getting the best possible deal for them during the health care reform negotiations. Or small businesses, whose needs take second place to the GOP’s hard line on taxes, preventing compromises which could deliver substantive benefits. But maybe it will take church groups to get the snowball started.