Why Republicans want to defund Obamacare (despite the fact that it won’t work)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Last week, I noted that efforts to defund Obamacare are futile — and potentially damaging. A lot of other people made similar points. So why are so many obviously intelligent Republican Senators pushing it?

The slides below are from a PowerPoint to be presented this week on polling data from GEB International.  (According to my source, the poll was taken on July 21 and is a 1,000 person sample. The margin of error is 3.1 percent):

Screen shot 2013-07-29 at 7.42.26 AM

And even more persuasive…


Shouldn’t Republicans elected to get rid of Obamacare do everything they can to do so? Clearly, the people have spoken.

It’s not quite that simple. As I noted the other day, this is not about whether or not you like Obamacare, it’s about whether or not it is smart strategy. And despite the public clamoring, the defund effort appears to be foolish strategy. But can we blame politicians for responding to market forces?

One obvious reason why the executive branch can consistently outmaneuver the legislative branch is that the executive branch is (hopefully) singing off the same hymn sheet. Meanwhile, Members of Congress are (now more than ever) independent agents. Actually, that’s not quite right. They work for the people, and the people want what the people want. Of course, the people may not be privy to all the details, and so, they elect representatives to make tough calls. (But how often do they give the public what they need versus what they want?)

To be sure, responding to the base — to the voters who got you there! — sounds noble. And it often is. But the problem is that some of this is technical. Sometimes strategy involves deception that escapes the casual observer (in the short term, it could even look like surrender). Sometimes you want to set a trap for the other guy. But the base fetishizes obvious clashes. They aren’t happy unless you run head first into the fight. Anything else is viewed as weakness or apostasy.

Consider this from Jonathan Chait:

“A few months ago, Eric Cantor was ready to bring his latest brainchild, the “Helping Sick Americans Now” bill, to the House floor. The move was pure Cantor—a smarmy, ultrapartisan ploy. The bill proposed to eliminate funds the Obama administration needs to set up and run the health-care exchanges that are the central mechanism in the health-care law, but then Cantor’s bill would use those funds to help a handful of sick people get health insurance. There was no chance this, or anything like it, would be signed into law, as Obama obviously would not agree to tear down a program to insure millions of Americans in return for insuring a tiny fraction of that number. It was a message vote whose purpose was “embarrassing Obamacare,” as one conservative activist gloated, by forcing Obama to deny immediate aide for the uninsured. As a soulless exercise in disingenuous spin, it was well conceived.

It failed, however, because a crucial faction of ultraconservative House Republicans threatened to vote against it. The trouble was that Cantor’s bill purported to “fix” Obamacare rather than eliminate it.”

This seems to be a trend.

Matt K. Lewis