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Kathleen Parker: Obamacare line in sand boxes in Republicans

Ask most people on Capitol Hill and they’ll say: 50-50. Those are the odds they give for a government shutdown.

An alternative to the shutdown would be a proposed delay of the individual mandate, the most painful part of Obamacare, which may seem like a Republican victory but upon closer inspection would be a win for President Barack Obama and Democrats.

Historians – or commentators in the meantime – might view either of these possible outcomes as yet another “Putinesca” victory for the president: saved by the enemy.

Just as Russian President Vladimir Putin emerged at the brink of the U.S. bombing of Syria to orchestrate an alternative solution, Republicans may have provided a rip cord for Obama.

Postponement of the individual mandate is part of the GOP bargaining package on raising the debt ceiling. Delay it for a year, say Republican leaders, and they’ll raise the debt limit for a year to keep the government operating.

At least one Democrat, Joe Manchin, has conceded that this would be a pretty good idea because the health care overhaul obviously isn’t ready. The many flaws have been fully vetted for months, though new ones continue to reveal themselves as we approach the insurance-exchange shopping spree scheduled to begin in a few days.

Latest to the fraying Affordable (now “Adorable”) Care Act is a technological glitch in online applications for small businesses. It isn’t ready yet and will be delayed.

What is ready, and adorable, is a sampler of new ads aimed at children who are still fretful about the new plan. Oh, wait, no. The ads, featuring baby ducks and kittens – purring and feeling ducky about Obamacare – are aimed at adults. They’re certifiably cute, but one can’t escape the thought that the federal government has skipped all pretense at treating Americans as adults. Naptime, anyone?

To be fair, Sen. Ted Cruz read Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” to his children during his 21-hour un-filibuster. The muse whispers: “Ted Cruz would send Ronald Reagan back to the Democratic Party.”

Here’s the problem for Republicans, which will not be news to those with a view of the long game. The short game is to stall Obamacare, but to what end ultimately? Until Republicans can seize the Senate in 2014 and the White House in 2016, at which point they can repeal the whole thing?

Skinny chance, that.

More likely, whether the government shuts down or, should Tinker Bell suddenly materialize and convince Obama to cave and postpone his personal dream act, Republicans will be viewed by a greater majority than previously as having no talent for leadership.

And if the debt ceiling isn’t raised and the United States defaults, threatening our full faith and credit around the world and sending countries looking favorably for other currencies, not to mention the financial fallout here, then blame will fall at the feet of the Republican Party. No surprise there.

Now consider the alternative scenario: Suppose Republicans succeed in getting the individual mandate delayed for a year, right up to the 2014 midterm elections. Bravo, right? Not necessarily. If voters don’t have to experience the uncertainty and discomfort of being forced to buy insurance in an unwieldy, dysfunctional system – all the while noticing that millions are still without coverage – who benefits?

Surely not the Republicans, who, on the one hand, can be blamed for depriving insurance coverage to those poor sick kittens and ducklings. On the other, they accrue no benefit from having prevented the pain of implementing Obamacare.

Republicans lose either way, but they may lose biggest if they win.

Alternatives to present circumstances do not abound. Republicans have drawn their red line in the sand. Democrats have drawn theirs. Obama says no negotiating over the debt ceiling, period.

One alternative is both perhaps best for the country and hardest for Obama. He could relent, not to Republicans, but to the greater good. He could delay full implementation past the 2014 elections, which would accomplish two things: One, he could iron out the wrinkles that are now apparent. Two, Democrats would get to slide through another election cycle without the most visibly painful part of Obamacare: the individual mandate.

What, really, does Obama have to lose? Only face, the pain of which passes. What he would gain is the legacy that escapes so many these days: proof that he is a leader who does the right thing, even if it hurts his pride just a little.

Republicans, who will have banished themselves to wander a while longer in the desert, may have drawn a line too far.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post.


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