Next step: Defund Obamacare by preventing a vote on defunding Obamacare

Written by . Posted in 2012 Presidential Race, 2014 Campaigns, 2016 Campaigns, Issue Watch

Published on September 20, 2013

foolsmateSo, the House has voted for a government spending bill that defunds Obamacare. Next step: Get it through the Senate, right? 

Wrong. In fact, if you vote to bring this House-passed “defund” bill to the Senate floor, you’re actually helping to fund Obamacare, according to the most vocal proponents of the “defund” strategy. No, I’m not making this up. That’s the actual plan

The “defund” bill doesn’t have the votes to clear the Senate. Even worse, if the “defund” bill ever gets cloture in the Senate and makes it to the floor, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., can simply use a “motion to strike” in order to remove the defunding provision with a simple majority, then pass a bill funding the government and send it back to the House. Rather than try to win (or at least force) a vote on defunding Obamacare, “defund” proponents are now calling for conservative Senators to block the very “defund Obamacare” bill that just passed the House. 

This plan is right out of Alice in Wonderland. You need to prevent a vote on defunding Obamacare in order to defund Obamacare.

Okay, so it isn’t that simple. The idea is to prevent a vote until the Democrats finally realize we mean business and they’re not getting their way, no matter what. This means we don’t pass a spending bill. And this is where we see that the arguments that “no one is trying to shut down the government,” and “we want to fund the government except for Obamacare,” have been inaccurate — perhaps even disingenuous. The whole point of this strategy, as I noted this summer, is to shut the government down for months. Eventually, Democrats are supposed to get so demoralized by this that they will voluntarily defund Obamacare and leave D.C. with their tails between their legs. Who knows? Maybe they’ll even dissolve the Democratic Party permanently and all liberals will agree to become conservatives.

Before you get too excited, though, one minor problem with this strategy is that Obamacare will be fully funded throughout this “government shutdown.” Yes, that’s right — its funding doesn’t depend on the bill that’s being blocked. And even if successful (which it won’t be), “defund” is a temporary victory that doesn’t actually prevent Obamacare’s various job-killing regulations, taxes and mandates from taking effect, or its tax credits from being paid out. 

This is to say nothing of the potential political disaster that would result from a months-long government shutdown. We’re all supposed to forget how a badly weakened President Clinton saw his fortunes revived after that occurred in 1995. But if Republicans shut the government down for a much longer period of time, then surely it’ll work out differently this time.

In some cases, you can prevent a bad policy even if you’re in the minority. You can convince a few stragglers in the opposite party. You can filibuster. You can propose poison-pill amendments that your opponents dare not vote against. Republicans had that chance in 2009-2010, and they simply lacked the numbers to stop Obamacare (although they did get at least one poison pill in there, which they can still force Democrats to swallow).

When a policy offends the Constitution, you can take it to court. This was tried, and it failed.

But when all of this fails, you need to win enough power in elections that you can make policy. Republicans had that chance in 2012, and they lost, for now. As a result, they don’t actually have the leverage they need to make the demands involved in the defund strategy. In fact, they have no leverage at all. Obama welcomes the coming shutdown as the best way of saving his party in 2014.

The House vote to defund could turn out to be a nice stroke, if it’s viewed as a way of putting Democrats on the record. That’s not going to make the “defund” proponents happy, but that’s life for the party out of power. From there, you have to convince the public that if they want to get rid of Obamacare (as the polls suggest they do), they have to throw its supporters out of office.

This is how our system works: You put in the hard work of campaigning and framing issues, you win, and then you get to make policy. But that’s like telling an overweight person that he must diet and exercise to lose weight — why go to all the trouble if you think there’s an easy shortcut? Why learn to play chess or even checkers if you think you can win the game by throwing the pieces at your opponent until he leaves the board in shame?

Likewise, instead of playing the long game to repeal a bad law, a large number of well-meaning conservatives have been talked into a shortcut that leads to defeat and disillusionment. This plan has all the sense of the Wisconsin and Indiana Democrats who fled their respective states in order to prevent a vote on controversial union-related legislation. In the end, they lost on the legislation and they got wiped out in the next election.