House Republicans are gambling their reputation and the U.S. economy on a push to strip funding for Obamacare.
GOP lawmakers assume that this is a safe bet, one that will fuel an economic boom and honor the will of the American public. But the polling and financial data indicate that it’s a long-shot gambit that could just as easily provoke a voter and economic backlash.
At the risk of a government shutdown next month when the next fiscal year starts, the House plans to vote today on a measure that temporarily funds the government through the middle of December. But that bill would also block spending for Obamacare and its health insurance exchanges, which are slated to open on Oct. 1, the first day of fiscal 2014.
“It’s a great day,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) in anticipation of the vote. “We’re going to pass a piece of legislation that is exactly what the American people think needs to happen in this country: fund the government, delay a law that is not ready.”
Senate Democrats are unlikely to vote for defunding Obamacare. President Obama, obviously, is against euthanizing his signature 2010 law that requires companies to provide or individuals to buy health insurance coverage.
When the House bill gets rejected, GOP lawmakers have yet to indicate whether they will crumble or hold firm. Jordan, the former head of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said at a panel convened by the Heritage Foundation that the plan was not mapped out yet.
But the GOP already has an encore planned on the debt ceiling, which must be increased from its $16.7 trillion level by mid-October or the government could spiral into default. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has proposed tying an increase into a year-long delay in implementing Obamacare.
There is no doubt that Obamacare has struggled to get off the ground, but here are the 5 big risks that House Republicans are taking with their strategy:
* Voters Are Split on Obamacare – The populist GOP rhetoric about the nation being united against the program is inaccurate.
Democratic labor unions have grumbled about its requirements, but it’s extremely unlikely that the Teamsters would switch camps over this issue. Nor are the 22 Democrats who voted in July for a one-year delay in Obamacare’s individual mandate the sign of bipartisan agreement that some Republicans claim.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 37 percent of the country favors Obamacare, 42 percent has a negative view, and 20 percent don’t know, according to the latest version of its August tracking poll. Those numbers don’t suggest a slam-dunk for the GOP, although conservative groups such as Americans for Prosperity are running a $3 million TV ad campaign claiming that “Obamacare is dangerous.”
Many of these opinions only mirror what politicians and the media are saying, making them as much of a reflection of the voters’ biases as their experiences with the law.
“At this point, a lot of this has to do with the fact that most people haven’t come into contact with the law themselves yet,” said Liz Hamel, Associate Director of Public Opinion and Survey Research at the Kaiser Family Foundation.
* But Voters Definitely Dislike the GOP Plan – That same Kaiser poll—in addition to a survey conducted for Republican strategist Karl Rove’s group Crossroads GPS—found that Americans object to defunding Obamacare.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans disapprove of cutting of funding, including 53 percent of independent voters, according to Kaiser. The majority of those who objected—69 percent—said that the appropriate way to stop the Affordable Care Act was to repeal it, instead of using the budget process.
* Can the GOP Swing the Blame to Obama? – The head-scratcher is how congressional Republicans can convince the nation that the fault for any shutdown rests with Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV).
After, all Obama has a 44.1 percent approval rating, according to the averages tracked by RealClearPolitics. That figure is weak, but it’s much better than a congressional approval rating in the teens.
It seems as though the GOP game plan is that Americans—who re-elected Obama and the Senate Democratic Majority last year—will somehow have a change of heart.
“What will Harry do is the simple question Americans will be asking,” said Rep. Tom Graves (R-GA) said. “The next 11 days are all we have to protect the American people from the harmful effects of this law.”
* A Standoff Could Damage the Economy – Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made the case on Wednesday that a fiscal stalemate could choke off economic growth. The Fed delayed an expected tapering of its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases, in part, because of a breakdown on the budget and the debt ceiling.
“These are obviously part of a very complicated set of legislative decisions, strategies, battles, et cetera,” Bernanke said. “The government shutdown and, perhaps even more so, the failure to raise the debt limit could have very serious consequences for the financial markets and the economy.
* But Delaying Obamacare Might Not Help the Economy Much – The working theory among Republicans is that the health insurance mandate has caused economic uncertainty, and prompted companies to hire part-time workers who are not owed medical benefits.
This is the upside argument:
If Obamacare gets delayed, Rep. Raul Labrador predicts that, “Economic growth is going to go through the roof.” He claimed that businesses would ramp up hiring of full-time workers, instead of part-time employees.
Maybe not. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Obamacare will impose net costs of $41 billion on the government next year, roughly half of what the government spends on its food stamp program. And no consensus exists yet for how the law will impact premiums for consumers.
Economists at the San Francisco Federal Reserve wrote an analysis last month suggesting that the shift to part-time jobs will be small, perhaps a one or two percentage point increase from its 18.8 percent share of all jobs today.
Few groups have advocated for a repeal of Obamacare as fiercely as Club for Growth, but their vice president for government affairs, Andrew Roth, downplayed any immediate economic benefits. This is a philosophical argument about the scope of the government, rather than the economic liability that it sometimes gets portrayed as.
“We as conservatives adhere to the constitution and what is the proper size of the government,” Roth said. “The short-term reactions by the economy are not what is driving us.”