By leaning on the U.S. Office of Personnel Management to agree that taxpayers be compelled to subsidize the health insurance costs of congressional staff and lawmakers being moved under Obamacare's umbrella, the president has given his GOP opponents an opening to change the whole debate.
Up to now, the conservative debate over whether or not to let the government shut down if the White House blocks efforts to defund Obamacare as part of the upcoming continuing resolution to keep the government funded has attracted almost all of the attention. Some on the right believe the American people dislike the new health care law so much they will put up with the inconveniences associated with a temporary shutdown of all non-essential federal functions in order to stop Obamacare from moving forward any farther. Others believe it is bad politics and bad policy to risk everything on, as Kipling might have called it, "one turn of pitch and toss," and prefer a more gradual, through approach that takes everything apart piece by piece.
Both sides should be able to agree, however, on a quick shift to making taxpayer-funded health insurance subsides for Congress and its staff the centerpiece of the fight over the August recess. Congressional approval numbers remain at record lows because the American people believe, with some justification, that elected officials on both sides of the aisle are putting partisan interests ahead of what is good for the country.
The idea that congressional staff are being "rewarded" with a taxpayer-funded subsidy because some of them threatened to leave Capitol Hill for more lucrative positions in the private sector strikes at the very heart of what people hate most about Washington, where everyone appears out of touch with the cold, harsh realities of life in America where the "official" unemployment rate of 7.4 percent is far below the number of people actually out of work and economic growth is anemic at best.
The two major political parties are divided not by labels but by attitudes toward government. Democrats believe it is the solution to what ails the nation, while Republicans believe, as Ronald Reagan famously observed time and again, "government is the problem." Switching the fight from defunding Obamacare, even at the risk of a government shutdown, to one where the issue at stake is subsides for government employees at a time when all too many families are struggling to make ends meet and the onset of Obamacare is causing health insurance premiums to skyrocket is both good politics and good policy.
It's good politics because it lets the American people know who is really on their side. It's good policy because it will help derail a new program that will not only fail to deliver as advertised but has proven itself to be a train wreck even during the implementation phase.
Stopping Obamacare before it is too late is even more important now that some studies have shown it will do little if anything to solve the problems it was meant to address. It won't make health care free, it won't bend the cost curve downward, it won't improve access and it will reduce the quality of care available even to those people who can afford to pay for the best American doctors and hospitals. It will lead to more people having insurance, but it will be more expensive insurance that won't necessarily be better insurance. Odds are it will be worse, especially after the program is fully on line.
The old adage that people should quake in fear when they hear the words "I'm from the government and I'm here to help you" is especially true where issues of life and death, like health care, are concerned. The new subsidies for congressional lawmakers and staff that President Obama reportedly lobbied personally to bring into existence confirm the worst fears of many Americans; that the government, ultimately, is only out for itself.