The Obamacare/shutdown battle has spawned myriad myths. The most egregious concern the substance of the fight, the identity of the perpetrators and the origins of the current eruption.
• Substance. President Obama indignantly insists that GOP attempts to abolish or amend Obamacare are unseemly because it is “settled” law, having passed both houses of Congress, obtained his signature and passed muster with the Supreme Court. Yes, settledness makes for a strong argument – except from a president whose administration has unilaterally changed Obamacare five times since its passage, including, most brazenly, a yearlong suspension of the employer mandate.
Yet when the House of Representatives undertakes a constitutionally correct – in other words, legislative – procedure for suspending the individual mandate, this is portrayed as some extra-constitutional sabotage of the rule of law. Why is tying that amendment to a generalized spending bill an outrage, while unilateral amendment by the executive is perfectly fine?
• Perpetrators. The mainstream media have been fairly unanimous in blaming the government shutdown on the GOP. Accordingly, House Republicans have presented bills to restore funding to national parks, veterans and the District of Columbia government. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., won’t even consider these refunding measures. And the White House has promised a presidential veto.
The reason is obvious: to prolong the pain and thus add to the political advantage gained from a shutdown blamed on the GOP.
• Origins. The most ubiquitous conventional wisdom is that the ultimate cause of these troubles is out-of-control tea party anarchists. But is this really where the causal chain ends?
The tea party was created by Obama’s first-term overreach, most specifically Obamacare. This frantic fight against it today is the fruit of the way it was originally enacted.
From Social Security to civil rights to Medicaid to Medicare, never in the modern history of the country has major social legislation been enacted on a straight party-line vote. Never. In every case, there was significant reaching across the aisle, enhancing the law’s legitimacy and endurance. Yet Obamacare passed without a single GOP vote.
Moreover, the administration was clearly warned. Republican Scott Brown ran and won in the most inhospitable of states, Massachusetts, on the explicit promise to cast the deciding vote blocking Obamacare. But Reid ignored this unmistakable message of popular opposition and conjured a parliamentary maneuver – reconciliation – to get around Brown.
Nothing illegal about ramming it through without a single opposition vote. Just totally contrary to the modern American tradition – and the constitutional decency – of undertaking major social revolutions only with bipartisan majorities.
I don’t agree with current Republican tactics. I thought the defunding demand impossible and, therefore, foolish.
Tactics are one thing, but substance is another. It’s the Democrats who have mocked the very notion of settled law. It’s the Democrats who oppose the reopening of substantial parts of the government. It’s the Democrats who gave life to a spontaneous, authentic, small-government opposition – the tea party – with their unilateral imposition of a transformational agenda during the brief interval when they held a monopoly of power.
That interval is over. The current unrest is the residue of that hubris.