On Sunday, I did that stupid thing I so often do: I clicked on a link to an inflammatory political interview. In this case, it was David Gregory talking to Senator Ted Cruz on “Meet the Press” about his campaign to de-fund the Affordable Care Act, sometimes called “Obamacare.”
When Gregory questioned whether Cruz was being intransigent, the Texan replied, “It is the Democrats who have taken the absolutist position.” The absolutist position Cruz was referring to is that laws passed by Congress should be treated as, uh, laws.
As some of you may remember, the ACA — whose intent is to make health insurance more affordable and accessible — was signed into law in March of 2010. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional.
Of course, there are ways to eliminate a law you don’t like in this country. You can gather the votes to repeal it, for instance, or challenge it in court. Conservatives have failed at both approaches. So they are now in the “shut down the government” phase.
If you’re like Ted Cruz, someone whose credibility depends on vilifying this law, the signs are not good.
If you step back from the situation for a sec, it’s a pretty brazen precedent. What’s next on the conservative repeal-or-we’ll-shut-the-government-down list: the New Deal? Civil Rights? Freeing the slaves?
But here’s the thing about Cruz and his brethren: they are in a genuine existential pickle. Because the modern conservative movement, in particular the Tea Party, is built around a single notion: that government is the problem, not the solution.
This is what every major conservative policy argument eventually boils down to: starve the government and let the private sector (or “the markets”) solve the problem.
It’s certainly true that Senator Cruz is using this issue to boost his profile for a 2016 presidential run. He is the current Republican front-runner. And it’s also true that many House Republicans are supporting the shutdown effort out of a raw political fear that if they don’t they will face a primary challenge next election.
But the ACA poses a far more fundamental threat to conservatives: it provides the American electorate definitive proof that the government can effect good on a mass scale. If the ACA becomes popular, it won’t just humiliate conservatives, it will expose the fallacy at the heart of their dogma.
This is probably why Republicans talk so little about what the law actually does.
Here’s a short list:
- Provides free preventive care.
- Allows young adults to remain on their parents’ insurance until age 26.
- Forces insurance companies to enroll people even if they have a pre-existing condition.
- Makes it illegal for health insurance companies to arbitrarily cancel your policy because you get sick.
There’s almost nobody who opposes these measures. Republicans support them by a huge majority when they’re presented outside the context of Obamacare.
It’s only when folks like Cruz start scaremongering — always in the most abstract of terms — that people turn against the ACA.
Like any huge government program, Obamacare is not going to work perfectly for everyone. And there will no doubt be some folks who are hurt by the law. (Most, if not all, of them will eventually appear on Fox News to detail the horror. Count on it.)
What’s next on the conservative repeal-or-we’ll-shut-the-government-down list: the New Deal? Civil Rights? Freeing the slaves?
But for the vast majority of Americans, Obamacare is going to be a great deal. More people will be insured. Fewer people will go bankrupt. The government will spend less money picking up the tab for the uninsured. The premiums for new policies offered by exchanges are proving much less expensive than critics expected.
And I can speak here from personal experience. In the past two years, my wife and I have received two rebates from our insurance company, totaling more than $500, because the company doesn’t spend enough of our premiums on improving care. We also got several hundred dollars worth of free preventative care.
Millions of Americans — even those who hate Obamacare — have enjoyed similar savings.
If you’re like Ted Cruz, someone whose credibility depends on vilifying this law, the signs are not good. So it makes perfect sense that he and his comrades would do anything — including sending our fragile economy into a free fall — to keep the ACA from proving its worth.