How dare President Obama refuse to repudiate one of the most important achievements of his administration — a health-care law that was approved by both houses of Congress, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, affirmed by voters in last year’s presidential election, and designed to extend medical insurance to tens of millions of Americans? Why won’t the President just negotiate all of that away?
House Republicans are, once again, offering their definition of negotiation: Do it our way or else. And because Mr. Obama properly declined to acquiesce to GOP extortion, the federal government has partially shut down and Americans are deprived of many vital public services.
This conflict is not so much a dispute between the President and Republican lawmakers as between two factions of the GOP: one traditional and amenable to bipartisan compromise, the other radical and unwilling to tolerate any vision of government other than its own.
The latter faction seeks to gut Obamacare even before many of its major provisions have gone into full effect. Its members figure that if they repeat often enough and loudly enough that the law is already a costly failure, their partisan canard will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Members of the moderate faction, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argue that Obamacare is settled law, and that the GOP must move on to other battles. Such talk is treason to Tea Party anarchists who represent safe, gerrymandered districts.
Two days after President Obama was re-elected last November, another Republican congressional leader was asked whether he would continue to seek to repeal Obamacare. “Well, I think the election changes that,” House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio replied. “It’s pretty clear that the President was re-elected. Obamacare is the law of the land.”
Mr. Boehner evidently was just kidding, because he now presides over the House-induced shutdown in the name of “the American people.” Presiding but not leading, because Ohio’s gift to political dysfunction is dominated by the radicals in his caucus in exchange for being allowed to keep his title. It isn’t clear what the speaker could negotiate with Mr. Obama, even if he were inclined to do so.
Americans will survive this shutdown, just as they have survived the equally stupid and avoidable budget sequester — another product of Republican intransigence. Within days, though, Congress faces a vote on raising the nation’s debt ceiling, so that the government can pay bills Congress has already incurred.
If the world’s most powerful nation defaults on its debts, the effects on the global economy will be immediate and disastrous. GOP lawmakers are vowing to use the debt limit as another vehicle for their hostage-taking on Obamacare.
Law-abiding Americans who are just trying to take part in the nation’s fragile economic recovery are wondering anew how ostensible leaders can get away with refusing to do their jobs — and how these leaders can subject the people’s business to repeated games of chicken. The idea that a large number of lawmakers believe their job is merely to nullify any law they don’t like is a destructive development for American democracy.
So the government is shut down, but Speaker Boehner still has his job. What a triumph for the American people.