Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) has proposed a deal, the basic parameters of which could end the government shutdown. His op-ed in the Wall Street Journal moves to “break the deadlock,” and recommends reforms to America’s growing entitlement burdens in exchange for an increase in the debt ceiling. Ideally, any deal which addresses the debt ceiling will also reopen the government.
Ryan has proposed important and necessary reforms, but conservatives are right to protest. His proposal abandons the GOP’s quest to seek reforms to the Affordable Care Act – ostensibly, the impetus for the shutdown in the first place. If the GOP abandons any push for reforming the ACA through this shutdown fight, it will isolate the forces within the party whose actions resulted in the shutdown in the first place. While some may see this as a desirable outcome today, it could have far-reaching ramifications for the stability of the party and its populist appeal in the long run.
“This isn’t a grand bargain,” Ryan wrote in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages. “For that, we need a complete rethinking of government’s approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government’s approach to health care. But right now, we need to find common ground.”
“We need to open the federal government,” he continued. “We need to pay our bills today—and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let’s negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.”
“There is a big word missing from this op-ed. It starts with an O and ends with BAMACARE,” wrote Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) senior communications advisor, Amanda Carpenter. Her reaction would suggest that Cruz, and his supporters, are not on board.
Democrats and President Barack Obama have signaled their willingness to consider a deal which would increase the debt ceiling by tackling spending. Indeed, there was always going to be a deal. The question was always what its contours would be. The White House and the Senate’s Democratic leadership will not accept a deal which reforms the ACA, if only because it is the most politically unappealing outcome for their party.
Across the country, Americans are wrestling with their obligations under the ACA. Even without the media making this case – indeed, making the opposite case on a regular basis – the public is linking the shutdown to the implementation of Obamacare. Even self-described Democrats have revealed to the press that the unexpected cost increases associated with the new and only partially functional health insurance exchanges have put Republicans’ frustration with the new law into focus. Some have even said that opposition to the ACA justifies a shutdown.
The Democratic Party’s future is tethered to this law. At present, it is unworkable and contains myriad flaws which have only just become clear for millions of Americans as they seek to comply with its mandates. To consent to a deal which forever links this shutdown to the implementation of the ACA is to redeem the shutdown. Democrats simply cannot have that.
Defunding the law was always a bridge too far. Similarly, a delay in the individual mandate – a key provision that funds much of the law’s expanded coverage provisions – is a nonstarter for Democrats. But there are elements in the ACA, such as the universally reviled medical device tax, which could be included as part of a deal which reopens the government and raises the debt ceiling. Senate Democrats’ stated opposition to the repeal of the device tax as part of a deal which ends the shutdown is paper thin – most are already on record insisting that they oppose the tax. They will be unable to defend voting against a compromise which includes a repeal of the device tax.
If the Republicans can secure even this largely cosmetic reform to the ACA, they will be able to plausibly claim that the shutdown had an objective and that objective was achieved. If, however, the Republicans pivot back to general spending issues, abandoning the populist fight of the day over the ACA, this shutdown will be viewed by posterity as a foolish and ill-conceived adventure.
It will demonstrate that the GOP is, as ever, more concerned with perennial budgetary gripes than the pocketbook issues average Americans are struggling to contend with. Furthermore, the GOP will appear flighty, unfocused, and wracked by factionalism. While these may be accurate descriptions of the state of the party at present, it would be folly for the GOP’s leadership to embrace them outright.
Republicans want a way out of this crisis – a crisis most of the party’s members in Congress never wanted in the first place. Ryan has offered them a way out. It is a solution that both Democrats and the president can live with – the path of least resistance. But it abandons the core goal of the shutdown from the perspective of those who thought this maneuver necessary.
If the GOP takes this route, it will only isolate the conservative members of the Congress who view the ACA as an existential threat to the country. They will be made more fractious, less amendable to reason and control, and may prevent the party from picking the next fight at a time of their choosing. It would also be a political setback for the party. There are few redeeming traits associated with this government shutdown, but Republicans appearing to mount a noble last stand against an unpopular law is one of them.
If the party goes Ryan’s route, the GOP will receive accolades from the media and interest groups inside the Beltway. Meanwhile, millions of average Americans will be left to struggle on their own against rising health insurance premiums and deductibles without a champion in Washington.
[Photo via ZUMA Press/US News]
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