Sowell: Defunding strategy “futile and foredoomed”

posted at 12:41 pm on September 24, 2013 by Ed Morrissey

It’s no secret that Republicans and conservatives have split on the strategy to stop ObamaCare, and that the fight has gotten personal on the Right.  Instead of arguing tactics and strategy, it’s been replaced in many cases by name-calling and fingerpointing.  One of the best and most respected (until now, anyway) conservative minds in the country, Thomas Sowell, weighs in today on the split, and argues that the defunding strategy — while having its heart in the right place — has played into Barack Obama’s hands:

What could possibly rescue Barack Obama from all these political problems and create a distraction that takes all his scandals off the front page? Only one thing: the Republicans.

By making a futile and foredoomed attempt to defund ObamaCare, Congressional Republicans have created the distraction that Obama so much needs. Already media attention has shifted to the possibility of a government shutdown.

Politically, it doesn’t matter that the Republicans are not really trying to shut down the government. What matters is that this distraction solves Barack Obama’s political problems that he could not possibly have solved by himself.

If defunding were possible, Sowell writes, it would be worth the fight.  However, dramatic gestures with no possibility of success aren’t helpful in warfare or in politics:

But, for the same reason that it makes no sense to impeach either President Obama or Chief Justice Roberts, it makes no sense to attempt to defund ObamaCare. That reason is that it cannot be done. The world is full of things that ought to be done but cannot in fact be done.

The time, effort and credibility that Republicans are investing in trying to defund ObamaCare is a high risk, low yield investment.

Even if, by some miracle, the Republicans managed to get the Senate to go along with defunding ObamaCare, President Obama can simply veto the bill.

There is a United States of America today only because George Washington understood that his army was not able to fight the British troops everywhere, but had to choose carefully when and where to fight. Futile symbolic confrontations were a luxury that could not be afforded then and cannot be afforded now.

The trouble with this strategy is that it has no end game, especially now that the fight hinges on blocking a floor vote on the House resolution with the defunding language.  That puts the onus for a shutdown squarely on the Senate rather than Obama.  The effort has failed to produce the desired effect of pressuring Democrats to back down in large part because the story shifted away from ObamaCare itself and onto a government shutdown, as Sowell points out.  And even if defunding had a prayer of passing, it wouldn’t actually stop ObamaCare, since the exchanges and the subsidies get their funding from statutory rather than budgetary sources.

This really isn’t about grassroots versus the establishment.  It’s about what could work — a delay for the individual mandate that would postpone the exchanges and subsidies — versus what has no possibility of working.  In order to put political pressure on Democrats to delay the implementation, we need to shift the discussion to stories like the 500,000 children that will likely be left without coverage thanks to ObamaCare, which USA Today just noticed:

A “family glitch” in the 2010 health care law threatens to cost some families thousands of dollars in health insurance costs and leave up to 500,000 children without coverage, insurance and health care analysts say.

That’s unless Congress fixes the problem, which seems unlikely given the House’s latest move Friday to strip funding from the Affordable Care Act.

Congress defined “affordable” as 9.5% or less of an employee’s household income, mostly to make sure people did not leave their workplace plans for subsidized coverage through the exchanges. But the “error” was that it only applies to the employee — and not his or her family. So, if an employer offers a woman affordable insurance, but doesn’t provide it for her family, they cannot get subsidized help through the state health exchanges.

That can make a huge difference; the Kaiser Family Foundation said an average plan for an individual is about $5,600, but it goes up to $15,700 for families. Most employers help out with those costs, but not all.

“We saw this two-and-a-half years ago and thought, ‘Has anyone else noticed this?’” said Kosali Simon, a professor of public affairs at Indiana University who specializes in health economics. “Everyone said, ‘No, no. You must be wrong.’ But we weren’t, and that’s going to leave a lot of people out.”

Politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the empty gesture. Hopefully we’ll get back to that soon.


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