The Tea Party’s Silliest Push Yet

Shutting down the government wouldn’t stop Obamacare.

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Washington will be visited today by tea party members rallying to urge Congress to "Defund Obamacare." Here's the most interesting (and ironic) thing about the #DefundObamacare effort: Even if they convince congressional Republicans to hold hostage America's budget, it won't defund Obamacare – but by stopping funding to critical programs, it would defund America.

That's right. A government shutdown would not shut down Obamacare. That's what the Congressional Research Service reported when asked by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.  How is that possible, you ask? Because much of Obamacare is funded by multiyear and mandatory funding. Such funding is unaffected by the annual appropriations that the tea party wants House Speaker John Boehner to shut down. The state marketplaces (known more commonly as "exchanges"), the subsidies for low-income people to buy insurance, the individual mandate and all the new rules prohibiting insurance company discriminations and abuses (remember the days of pre-existing conditions)? They'll all go forward even if the tea party succeeds in disrupting this year's federal budget. That's why Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., called the defund plan "the dumbest idea" he ever heard, and why Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called it "Shenanigans."  

Okay, so the entire goal of the tea party's rally isn't even possible.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the tea party.]

But guess what?  Even the rationale for the tea party's rally is mixed up. They claim the reason to "exempt America" from the Affordable Care Act is that Congress is already exempted from it and because large employers are as well. But, here's the problem:  Neither point is factually true. Facts are stubborn things, as John Adams famously said. 

First, the federal Office of Personnel Management ruled a few weeks ago that members of Congress and their staffs will, indeed, receive their insurance through the state Marketplaces. But, heck, tea party leaders apparently figure, people are already on their way to the rally and haven't heard the OPM news, so let's just leave them in the dark.  No need to actually correct the record. Why let facts get in the way of a good rally on the Mall?

And large employers? Ninety-six percent of large employers already offer health insurance because that's what the market demands. Only 4 percent of large employers aren't yet covered. But they didn't get an "exemption" as the tea party contends; they simply got a temporary delay in having to provide insurance. Obama simply said he didn't need to fight with a tiny handful of businesses if they honestly needed a few more months to get organized to offer insurance. So neither Congress nor big business is "exempt" from Obamacare.

In short, what are we looking at? The tea party's rationale isn't valid, and its goal isn't even doable. 

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Nevertheless, whether or not Boehner will cave to the tea party remains very much in question. Boehner may indeed try to defund America. After all, his speakership rests in part on his ability to keep the extremists in his caucus supporting him – not always easy with Eric Cantor breathing down his neck.

What would happen if the tea party won and shut the government down? What impact would they have? Here are some examples of who would get hurt if Republicans defund America:

  • Recent veterans returning from Afghanistan who try to file new claims with the Veterans Administration. Although VA hospitals would presumably remain open in a shutdown, the staff who normally handle new claims wouldn't be at their desks.
  • Parents sending their kids back to school, who want to know that federal food inspectors will be on the job making sure peanut butter and hamburgers are not contaminated.
  • College students who have questions about federal student loans, including vets using the GI Bill (which is often late or incorrect in its disbursement) – but who will find no staff at the Department of Education or VA desks to answer their questions.
  • Grandparents who are finally old enough for Social Security and want to file a new claim will find that there aren't Social Security staff around to get them started. (But Americans should rest assured that existing Social Security will continue to be sent out on time – that is, unless the tea party also succeeds in convincing the GOP to push America into a default crisis at the beginning of October, when the credit card payments come due that Congress has racked up; then nobody knows what will happen.)
  • Americans of all ages who get hit by the flu season or an outbreak of whooping cough, because there won't be Centers for Disease Control and Prevention staff at their desks to track and warn us about the flu or any other disease.
  • [See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

    One tea party leader recently wrote in USA Today that she is "undeterred by the consequences." Really? 

    No wonder only seven percent of Americans agree with the tea party's idea of shutting down the government over Obamacare. Nobody wants to Defund America. Americans need a federal budget that creates jobs and grows the economy. But to whom are Speaker Boehner and his caucus listening? Americans might consider speaking up to counter the tea party's megaphone. Business leaders who want a stable economy and predictable federal budget should remind Speaker Boehner that America's budget is not the place for political stunts.

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