What are the responsibilities of the opponents of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)? Is it reasonable to undermine it at every step?
Several commentators (including me last week, and Brian Beutler today) have argued that there is in fact something unusual about GOP resistance to Obamacare. The pushback from conservatives is to flip the story: ACA supporters are simply seeking to shift blame if reform fails from the law to its opponents. Philip Klein rolled out that argument earlier this week; Patrick Ruffini refined it today:
Shorter @brianbeutler: Republicans won’t help Obama fix the mess he created.
I think that may work as political rhetoric. Well, actually, I don’t think it matters much; if the ACA fails, no one is going to blame Republicans whether they bear any of the responsibility or not. At any rate, I don’t think that’s what those of us who have made the observation about undermining the ACA mean, however, or at least it’s not what I had in mind. My question would be whether Republicans, in undermining the law in order to destroy it, are acting responsibly.
I can imagine some situations when one would have no obligation at all to making a law, once passed, work as well as possible. I’ll take a conservative example. Someone who believes that abortion is flat-out murder probably has no obligation to make sure that regulations on legal abortion are thought out and administered wisely. Policy collapse which caused, say, real hardship to women seeking health care might be a perfectly valid price to pay for resisting what that person would see as mass murder.
Does Republican resistance to Obamacare fit? I don’t think so. I’ll make four points:
* It matters a lot that Republicans have no preferred alternative.
Republicans do not support the status quo ante; they have claimed, for years now, to support “repeal and replace” — but have never bothered to come up with an actual replacement. That’s not true for some conservative pundits, but it is true for Republican politicians.
* It matters a lot that Republicans are actively trying to make things worse in order to eventually make things better.
Opposing Medicaid expansion probably fits, but opposing the publicizing of Affordable Care Act certainly fits. As I said above, this kind of thing can be justified in some cases, but it’s certainly a higher hurdle than needed for opposition which, resisters believe, would immediately improve things. There’s also the attempts to cut off funding for implementation, and filibusters against people nominated to carry out the policy.
* It matters a lot that Republicans oppose every provision of the law, including those which they otherwise support, in order to make it more likely the whole thing can be repealed.
We saw this with Republican opposition to a Republican bill providing for high-risk pools, which were suddenly tainted because the ACA used temporary high-risk pools as a bridge to full implementation of the law.
* And it matters a lot that many Republicans are against compromise based on what they see as principle.
They want full repeal of Obamacare, full stop. There’s no effort at all to find some sort of middle ground that both sides could live with.
Again: I do think it’s possible for attempts to undermine a policy can be justified if any of these things apply. But put them all together, and it’s a lot harder to argue that Republicans are behaving responsibly.
That doesn’t mean that they have an obligation to support a law they don’t like! Absolutely not. It does mean, however, that the extraordinary efforts to undermine it — not to change it, not even to repeal it, but to do what they can to make it fail — are irresponsible.