July 25, 2013

Do Republicans believe that Obamacare is a disaster in the making? Or is it such an appealing program that they have to take extraordinary steps to undermine it?

Reuters reports today that conservative groups are taking their campaign to undermine the law to ever new heights. As the Tea Party group FreedomWorks puts it: “We’re trying to make it socially acceptable to skip the exchange.”

The game plan — which will include ads and social media — is to target the “young healthies” who are needed in the insurance pools in order to make the exchanges work. The goal isn’t just to getting to oppose the Affordable Care Act; it’s far too late for that. Rather, the goal is to use “town hall meetings, protests and media promotions to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage.”

As Greg and others have been saying, this is “sabotage governing.” Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein  has a good piece detailing how this works, and how it’s essentially unprecedented.

But this also points to a real contradiction in the Republican message: At the same time they’re trying to undermine it, Republicans are loudly insisting that the program just won’t work — it will “collapse under its own weight,” as the talking point has it. For example, see the apparent attempt by Republican state governments to hype “rate shock” well beyond any reality. As Sarah Kliff argues today, Republicans have set expectations for the program so low that “if Godzilla doesn’t march in on Oct. 1 and gobble up our health insurance coverage and legions of IRS agents fail to microchip the masses, that could plausibly look like a success.”

If they really believe that the Affordable Care Act will collapse on its own — that premiums will skyrocket, that people will lose what they have now, or whatever other horrors they’ve been asserting — then there’s no reason at all for any campaign to spread misinformation about the law or to encourage anyone to “skip the exchange.” Consumers would do that on their own.

But Republicans apparently think they can’t take the risk that Obamacare will work out just fine. My guess is that all too many Republicans buy into the “47%” myth that Obamacare will be successful mainly at turning Americans into weakling wards of the state who will ensure a permanent Democratic majority.

At any rate, it’s just monstrous to actively discourage people from getting health insurance through the exchanges. I’ll give Ornstein the last word:

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous—just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing…

[T]o do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation — which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil—is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate — even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists — takes one’s breath away.