Give Up the Defund Obamacare Push

The Republican Party must stop wasting energy on nonsensical attempts to repeal Obamacare.

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President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act on March 23, 2010. in Washington. The overview of premiums and plan choices was released Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Health Care for America Act on March 23, 2010. in Washington. The overview of premiums and plan choices was released Wednesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Let me go out on a limb here: President Obama will not sign the repeal of the Affordable Care Act this year. 

The Affordable Care Act was, of course, the signature legislative accomplishment of his first term, and the realization of his main campaign promise. Organizations like Heritage Action for America (full disclosure, I have donated to the Heritage Foundation, with which Heritage Action is affiliated) have spent the summer organizing town halls and running ads demanding that any continuing resolution that funds the government contain a legislative rider that fully defunds healthcare reform.

If your goal is to momentarily rile up some conservative activists and voters, then that is a reasonable demand. If your goal is to improve the long-term fiscal outlook of the United States, or to give Republicans a chance to win the upcoming political fights over government funding and the debt limit, then it is not.

In the upcoming two or so weeks, Congress will have to pass a bill that funds the government beyond September 30, or else the federal government will shut down, which would be unnecessary and unpleasant for those who depend on it for income, work or services. This looming shutdown makes for a good moment for House Republicans to try and force at least some entitlement reform to address the long-term budgetary challenges that Social Security and Medicare, in particular, face. It is not a good moment to ask for the full surrender of all power to one house of Congress: if that were what the founders had in mind, they would not have gone through the trouble of creating a second house of Congress and an executive branch to jointly deal with budgetary issues.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

There are also practical, political reasons to ask for more reasonable concessions: If Democrats reject those, it will not necessarily be Republicans who look like obstructionist naysayers. But if Republicans demand that the president defund, delay or repeal his main domestic-policy accomplishment, the president says no ("This is a red line that I will not cross, and let me be clear, this red line is actually red and a line.") and the government shuts down, moderate voters are likely to think: "Well, that's a bit uncalled for. Why would Republicans think that the president was going to torpedo his whole agenda?"

It will make Republicans look irresponsible, it will divert attention from President Obama's muddled Syria policy, it will make it less likely that they win back the Senate and the White House in the near future and, as a consequence, ultimately make it harder, not easier, to reform or repeal Obamacare.

The tea party movement has filled many with hope that the Republican Party can be reformed so as to once again be the party of fiscal responsibility and limited government. Fiscal irresponsibility and self-inflicted political defeats do not help speed up that process. Hoping for a miracle along the lines of President Obama repealing the Affordable Care Act or President Putin coming to the rescue at the last minute is highly risky and utterly unproductive; making steady progress on the long-term budgetary front and winning back the confidence of the American people after compassionate conservatism and the 2011 debt limit crisis, albeit less exciting today, are much more promising avenues toward a prosperous tomorrow.

Stan Veuger is an economist at the American Enterprise Institute.

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