First they lie to you, and then they ask you for money.
That’s the essence of the great Tea Party/Ted Cruz crusade to “defund” Obamacare, a political and constitutional impossibility. The question was settled, probably for good, when President Obama won re-election in 2012 and Democrats kept control of the Senate.
Instead, it’s about TV face time and harvesting donations from gullible voters misled both about the Affordable Care Act itself and Sen. Cruz’s nonexistent chances of ending it.
Amid all the melodramatic TV chatter, the estimable blogger Digby puts it in terms everybody should understand. She has a friend in the insurance industry whose company has been getting thousands of calls from frightened policyholders who fear that the hullabaloo in Washington could result in their losing health coverage.
“I asked her what calmed people down,” Digby writes, “and she says she tells everyone to think about their high school civics class and remember that laws have to be passed by both houses and signed into law by the president. Without proselytizing at all, everyone immediately realizes what an absurd exercise in futility all this nonsense really is.”
A narrow Republican majority in the House can’t void the Affordable Care Act any more than 54 Senate Democrats can force everybody in Oklahoma to eat broccoli. Anybody who tells you differently is a flim-flam artist.
Such as Newt Gingrich. The presiding genius of the 1996 GOP government shutdown went on ABC’s “This Week” to deliver pseudo-historical profundity: “Under our constitutional system going all the way back to Magna Carta in 1215, the people’s house is allowed to say to the king we ain’t giving you money.”
Actually, the U.S. Constitution of 1789 makes no provision for a king. Neither, as former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich has reminded Gingrich, does it “allow a majority of the House of Representatives to repeal the law of the land by defunding it. If that were the case, no law [would be] safe.”
No federal court could rule otherwise. It’s a separation of powers issue. These principles are so fundamental to American governance that even the Wall Street Journal reminds GOP hotheads that for all the three-ring thrills provided by Sen. Cruz and his allies, “the only real way to repeal the law is to win elections.”
The irony is that even if House Republicans ended up forcing a government shutdown, the rollout of the Affordable Care Act wouldn’t be much affected. Like Social Security and Medicare, Obamacare has its own dedicated funding stream which Congress can alter only by amending the law -- again, requiring the cooperation of both the Senate and White House.
An even greater irony, many have pointed out, is that if Republicans really believed the law will prove a terrible failure, these last-minute theatrics wouldn’t be necessary. Their actual fear is that once the notoriously uninformed American public gets first-hand experience with the Affordable Care Act, they’re going to like it just fine.
How else to explain the deceptive, Koch-funded TV ad campaign that coincides with Cruz’s Last Stand? Are people so gullible that they’re fooled by a horror film scenario featuring a creepy Uncle Sam with a speculum? “Don’t let the government play doctor,” indeed. Does that pleasant, grandmotherly cancer victim really not grasp the differences between private health insurance reform and a “government takeover” of medical care?
Maybe so, and maybe not. I’m inclined to suspect that the real objection to Obamacare isn’t so much the law’s contents as its sponsor and its perceived beneficiaries: the undeserving poor.
Veteran political scientist Norm Ornstein recently told The Daily Beast’s Kirsten Powers that “the bizarreness of this monomaniacal focus on Obamacare, given that it is fundamentally a Republican program from the 1990s mixed in with Romneycare,” says it all. “Obamacare relies on the private sector; there is no public option. That you are willing to bring the country to its knees to sabotage it ... just shows this is a party that has gone off the rails.”
Meanwhile, establishment Republicans are growing restive. Writing in The Hill, former Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., complains that “These are folks who have never governed and are not inclined to do so. Rather, their goals are improved fundraising and, in some cases, individual advancement. They have hit on an issue that plays well on the stump, producing numerous effective one-liners.”
Gregg sees the Cruz/Boehner backup plan of threatening to default on the national debt as even crazier, “the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded. ... At some point, the debt ceiling will have to be increased not because it is a good idea but because it is the only idea.”
Gregg retired from the Senate in 2010. Back then nobody had ever heard of Ted Cruz. Today, however, win or lose, the Tea Party has found its champion.
Gene Lyons is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.