Commentary Magazine


ObamaCare’s “More Cowbell” Moment

There has been a strange new narrative emerging from the left seeking to blame congressional Republicans for not being more willing to save ObamaCare–and thus the Democratic Party–from itself. This is, to put it charitably, not exactly a well-considered line of argument for three reasons. First, it is demonstrably false, as it conflicts with an easily observable reality. Second, it is based on the idea that Republicans were right all along about ObamaCare, which undercuts the argument that it’s high time for everyone to get on board the law’s sinking ship.

And third, it is an acknowledgement that the Obama administration is acting lawlessly in suspending parts of the law yet attempts to paint Republican bystanders as the irresponsible ones. Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post is the latest example of this contradictory and illogical allegation. Where Milbank and others seem to get tripped up is in their eternal quest for Republican hypocrisy and their underlying assumption that everything Republicans do is for the express purpose of impeding basic governance. Milbank writes:

This unqualified opposition is counterproductive for House Republicans. On health care, as on immigration, their approach amounts to a search-and-destroy mission. They could work with Democrats to remove problematic pieces in the health-care law, and they could compromise with Democrats on legislation that would secure the borders. But instead they are devoted to shutting down both.

He adds:

In the case of the “employer mandate,” even a number of liberals agree that it’s a bad policy. Republicans could probably find support for repealing that provision, if they weren’t hellbent on repealing the whole law.

So is Milbank right? It is true that congressional Republicans aren’t interested in repealing the employer mandate and that Democrats are simply waiting for the GOP to ask them to dance? No, of course not. Republican Congressman Charles Boustany has introduced legislation to repeal the employer mandate. That’s an awfully long list of Republican cosponsors at that link; maybe Milbank can pick up the phone and rally the Democrats to the cause.

Another paragraph Milbank uses to frame the debate is representative of the nonsense coming from much of the left on this issue. He writes:

Last week, the administration announced it was delaying by a year the implementation of one of Obamacare’s provisions, the requirement that large employers provide health insurance. You’d think the opposition party, which has spent four years denouncing the health-care reforms, would be delighted by the reprieve. But on Wednesday, Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee held a hearing to condemn the administration — for incomplete enforcement of the law they hate.

Imagine the hypocrisy! Later, he writes:

It’s a safe bet that Republicans aren’t really concerned about the delay, which the administration said last week that it had granted at the request of employers and which was applauded by business groups.

So what are Republicans complaining about? They don’t like the employer mandate, and now it’s been delayed. Businesses didn’t like the mandate, and President Obama listened to their complaints and suspended it. But look at the groundwork the left has to lay to try and make this point. Businesses requested, and then applauded, the suspension of the mandate because it was always a terrible idea. It was included in ObamaCare to cut costs, which means that without it the law doesn’t do what its backers swore it would do in order to get the bill through Congress. The whole bill, then, was always a terrible idea.

Republicans were right, voters were right, Democrats were wrong. It is really that simple. And now the left wants Republicans to pitch in and own some of this colossal liberal failure. And why would Republicans complain about the suspension of the mandate? Because it’s far from clear the administration has the legal power to do what it’s doing. That’s not just conservative troublemaking; Milbank’s Post colleague Ezra Klein said that the mandate suspension “is a regulatory end-run of the legislative process.” Klein says Republicans are also right that the employer mandate should be repealed, officially.

This follows the common theme: once again, Republicans were right, Democrats were wrong. It’s a familiar pattern in the discussion of ObamaCare, because the law is such an unwieldy mess and because federal laws these days are written more to obfuscate than enlighten the public about what their government is doing to them. Nancy Pelosi’s infamous plea to pass the bill to find out what’s in it wasn’t outrageous because one House Democrat had finally been honest about it–no one ever expected Pelosi to oppose a government expansion written by Democrats–but because it was indicative of her colleagues’ attitude as well.

The administration passed a law to reform a significant chunk of the economy without having any real idea what it was doing. Now that it has discovered just how ill conceived parts of the law were, it has legal means at its disposal to remedy it–by, for example, following the Republican lead in repealing the employer mandate. But the administration’s instinctive response is always “more cowbell”–the law is the result of liberal government overreach, and the solution must be more liberal government overreach. The fact that Republicans won’t play along with this farce shows their good judgment.

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