It is downright amazing that the most momentous, and contemptible, piece of legislation Washington has seen in the last 50 years passed without tempting one Republican in the entire Congress to cross the aisle and join in. History will forever recall that Obamacare, in all its budget-busting and government-expanding glory, is entirely a creation of the Democrats, from the secret meetings where all 2,700 pages were drafted, to its final passage. And the GOP stayed unified throughout; not a single cat was lost in the herd!
With Democrats cloaked in Obamacare like Rod Blagojevich in prison orange and the law gaining in unpopularity by the day, is it any wonder they are starting to buckle on this issue? And why shouldn’t they? In the 2010 midterm elections they lost more than a quarter of their caucus in the House, in large part due to public opposition to Obamacare. Much of that opposition came from seniors, who, while only 13% of the voting public, comprised 23% of the midterm electorate. Liberal Democrats like Barney Frank, Fortney “Pete” Stark and even Allyson Schwartz, a member of the House Democratic leadership, are part of a small but growing group of Democrat survivalists joining the GOP and voicing opposition to specific tentacles of the new law.
This is why I am so puzzled, even miffed, by the recent public opposition of conservative Don Corleones like Sen. Jim DeMint and Rep. Steve King to the Republican-led charge to repeal the Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB), the 15-member panel of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who will be given carte blanche to ration care by their unilateral decisions. Yes, I know, Congress has the “final say,” if you can imagine two-thirds of Congress agreeing on anything. A bill to repeal IPAB recently passed Chairman Fred Upton’s Energy and Commerce Committee and currently has 20 Democrats as co-sponsors, including the three noted above. The GOP has maintained a unified front, so why go rogue now when so many are on board against IPAB?
On the surface, the argument by DeMint and King seems reasonable: killing portions of Obamacare undermines and confuses the real goal — killing the whole thing, stem to stern, in one fell swoop. Attacking parts of the law, they claim, may appear to signal complacency with mending it, and indicate we are okay with a watered-down version and risk being seen as the “party of some of Obamacare.”
But this simply is not true. As DeMint and King point out, the 2012 election will yield either a pro-Obamacare or anti-Obamacare result based on which party prevails, and total repeal of the law remains a pillar of the Republican 2012 platform without exception. No Republican working to push IPAB off a cliff will settle for less, so the choice is not mutually exclusive and the framing of the election is not affected. Voters still know that the GOP is the party for total repeal, and with continued unanimity long since settled, taking on IPAB strengthens, not weakens, the party’s image on the issue. Seniors understand the stakes, and favor attacking IPAB just as much as repealing Obamacare as a whole. Pronouncements like these from up above fall upon deaf ears.
What the public effort to repeal IPAB does accomplish is three-fold. First, it keeps the issue on the front-burner, reminding the public that we still don’t know what’s in this mammoth-sized law, or what is waiting for us around the corner. The more despicable components of the law we can expose, the more the Democrats have to play defense and answer to their constituents for a bill none of them bothered to read. Republicans employed this strategy in the ’90s, keeping the heat on Bill Clinton until he finally agreed to welfare reform by continually underscoring its wasteful and immoral trappings until he finally relented.
Second, IPAB assists our side in the public relations battle to highlight the pain and suffering inherent within Obamacare, in a way that engages and motivates the public far more than arguments against its “unconstitutional mandate.” The Heritage Foundation recently obtained a memo from the Obama administration outlining a coordinated public relations campaign to support the law, which is sure to feature weepy-eyed citizens falling to their knees, praising Obama for saving their lives. Our side needs to engage in this PR battle and bugle all of its ills, from higher premiums, to people losing coverage, to its trillions in cost, and on and on. IPAB and its rationing panels are central to this strategy.
Finally, the real fear shouldn’t be visions of a diluted Obamacare surviving minus IPAB, but IPAB setting up shop without Obamacare. It is quite conceivable that Republicans may prevail in 2012 and repeal the health care law, only to see Democrats revive the IPAB blueprint years from now in an attempt to re-assemble nationalized health care. Having a public debate on IPAB can help settle the matter for good, much like the “Harry and Louise” ads turned public sentiment against Hillarycare in the early ’90s. Those ads, and the debate they generated, have had such a lasting impact that Obama and congressional Democrats were forced to conceal their agenda to pass Obamacare against the wishes of the American public.
The approach that Sen. DeMint and Rep. King are advocating would not only yield the moral high ground to the Democrats, it would be a failure of leadership. Note that we have not seen Democrats try to revive “catastrophic health care” legislation in the 23 years since a group of angry seniors rocked the car of House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski so hard he was still being treated for motion sickness years later. When politicians see an uprising, they tuck tail and keep it tucked. Exposing IPAB now while it is still law and ripe for exposure can help ensure we never see its ugly head again.
I can’t think of very many times I’ve disagreed with Sen. DeMint and Rep. King, both of whom I’ve personally campaigned with in their states. Whether on conservative principles, policy or the pronunciation of tomato and potato, we’ve always been in agreement. But on this matter, I believe they have it wrong. Obamacare isn’t Julius Caesar and Congress isn’t Brutus. The issue will be decided at the ballot box after a vigorous campaign that covers all of the law’s failings, IPAB included. Caesar’s fate would be ideal for Obamacare, but a death by a thousand cuts would work just as well.
The battle over Obamacare is really like a boxing match; a jab to the body, a hook to the jaw, and try not to let the Democrats take a bite from our ear. While our side remains unified, the Democrats are starting to show cracks in the facade. This is the debate our democracy requires. Come Election Day this November, the choice belongs to the American people.
Jim Martin is chairman and founder of the 60 Plus Association, which represents 7.l million seniors nationally.