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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ornstein: Republican Sabotage Shows Contempt for Democratic Process, Health Concerns of Americans

Norm Ornstein’s National Journal article, “The Unprecedented–and Contemptible–Attempts to Sabotage Obamacare” provides a compelling indictment of the Republican party’s abandonment of democratic principles and concern for the health of the American people. As Ornstein explains:

When Mike Lee pledges to try to shut down the government unless President Obama knuckles under and defunds Obamacare entirely, it is not news–it is par for the course for the take-no-prisoners extremist senator from Utah. When the Senate Republicans’ No. 2 and No. 3 leaders, John Cornyn and John Thune, sign on to the blackmail plan, it is news–of the most depressing variety.
I am not the only one who has written about House and Senate Republicans’ monomaniacal focus on sabotaging the implementation of Obamacare–Greg Sargent, Steve Benen, Jon Chait, Jon Bernstein, Ezra Klein, and many others have written powerful pieces. But it is now spinning out of control…It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented.

Ornstein relates how Republicans “pulled a bait and switch” double-cross back in 2003, during the effort to pass a Medicare prescription drug plan, ripping our progressive measures from the legislation in a late night vote in violation of established procedures. Democrats chose not to use disruption or obstruction at the time, opting to work instead for an acceptable compromise. As Ornstein adds,

Almost certainly, Democrats could have tarnished one of George W. Bush’s signature achievements, causing Republicans major heartburn in the 2004 presidential and congressional elections–and in the process hurting millions of Medicare recipients and their families. Instead, Democrats worked with Republicans, and with Mark McClellan, the Bush administration official in charge of implementation, to smooth out the process and make it work–and it has been a smashing success.

Regretfully, the Republicans chose not to emulate that cooperative spirit, as Ornstein notes:

Contrast that with Obamacare. For three years, Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm anybody to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the post that McClellan had held in 2003-04–in order to damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan. Guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats–to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan.

Ornstein says that “What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous–just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.” He cites as another example the letter Republican Leaders Mitch McConnell and Cornyn sent to the NFL, “demanding that it not cooperate with the Obama administration in a public-education campaign to tell their fans about what benefits would be available to them and how the plan would work–a letter that clearly implied deleterious consequences if the league went ahead anyhow.”
Ornstein describes the right way for an elected official to try an correct a law they disagree with in a democracy. Then he describes the modern Republican way:

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable–unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better–not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.
But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation–which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil–is simply unacceptable, even contemptible. One might expect this kind of behavior from a few grenade-throwing firebrands. That the effort is spearheaded by the Republican leaders of the House and Senate–even if Speaker John Boehner is motivated by fear of his caucus, and McConnell and Cornyn by fear of Kentucky and Texas Republican activists–takes one’s breath away.

For voters who believe that real patriotism includes a concern for the health and well-being of vulnerable Americans, the Republicans’ growing contempt for Democratic values is nauseating.

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