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The Issue: Obamacare defunding a losing issue

By MARCELLA KREITER, United Press International   |   Oct. 13, 2013 at 4:30 AM   |   Comments

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A funny thing happened as Republicans and Democrats lurched to a compromise to end the partial government shutdown and avert threats of a U.S. default: The outcry against healthcare reform was muted.

Fifteen percent of the government shut down Oct. 1 when it ran out of spending authority. Republicans wanted to tie a stopgap spending bill to defunding the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare -- a no-go as far as Senate Democrats and President Obama were concerned.

The premiere of the centerpiece of Obamacare, the state health insurance exchanges, coincided with the shutdown and hundreds of thousands of Americans tried to check them out. Predictably the software wasn't up to the load -- we won't discuss the states like Tennessee that actively put up roadblocks.

"I'm not saying that this is a situation that doesn't need fixing; it does -- which is why we're making improvements every day. People are working overnight to make those improvements to the website," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said last week.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the site in just a few days had received more hits than Southwest Airlines gets in a month.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has been egging on opponents of healthcare reform for months. In an early September email, the foundation warned problems with the Healthcare.gov website would lead to massive breaches in security as Americans put their personal information online.

What has Republicans so riled at the moment is the individual mandate, the requirement that everyone buy coverage or pay a penalty come income tax time. The penalty the first year is a paltry $95 or 1 percent of an individual's income. Even the cheapest policies on the exchanges cost way more than $8 a month -- and premiums are expected to increase about 20 percent next year with expansion of coverage and reduction in out-of-pocket costs, various studies indicate.

Chances are if it hadn't been for GOP temper tantrums leading up to the debut, there would have been a lot less interest. A Gallup poll just days after the exchanges opened indicated 75 percent of the uninsured said they were unfamiliar with the exchanges but 65 percent said they planned to buy insurance before the Jan. 1 deadline.

There's little argument the ACA has some problems and, indeed, the administration already has postponed or canceled several provisions. But instead of offering concrete proposals for fixing the law's deficiencies, Republicans, especially Tea Party Republicans, have been demanding the ACA be scrapped altogether -- an impossibility given the work hospitals, other providers and insurance companies already have put into implementing it.

Former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., now president of the Heritage Foundation, sent a letter to Obama explaining conservatives' distaste for the law, saying it will add nearly $1.8 trillion in federal spending (no time period specified), cost taxpayers trillions more out-of-pocket, destroy jobs and wreck family budgets.

"With the economy still mired in a scattered and sluggish recovery, these people deserve relief from Obamacare -- and they deserve it now," DeMint wrote.

The Heritage Foundation has been acting as a cheerleader for the pro-defunding faction.

"Overall, Obamacare's benefit mandates will raise premiums, not lower them -- and candidate Obama's promise to lower rates by $2,500 per family amounts to a massive broken promise. For these reasons and more, Congress should use its 'power of the purse' to stop Obamacare before these new costly mandates take effect on Jan. 1," the group wrote last month.

The arguments against Obamacare are not new. In fact, they are eerily similar to those advanced when Social Security and Medicare were proposed.

But the din over Obamacare faded halfway through the second week of the partial government shutdown.

In an op-ed piece published in Wednesday's edition of The Wall Street Journal, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., the House budget wunderkind and the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate, focused on broader budgetary themes long held dear by the GOP.

"We have an opportunity here to pay down the national debt and jump-start the economy, if we start talking, and talking specifics, now," Ryan wrote. "To break the deadlock, both sides should agree to common-sense reforms of the country's entitlement programs and tax code."

Ryan said "prudence" must be put ahead of "pride" to resolve the dispute. Ryan noted there's agreement that structural reforms need to be made to Social Security and Medicare if the programs are to survive and those reforms need to be gradual, not sudden. On the sequester, those mandatory budget cuts that kicked in March 1, Ryan said he agreed there's a better way to make budget cuts.

"I want a budget agreement -- because if we don't make the tough decisions now, we'll face only tougher decisions later," Ryan said, calling on Obama to take the lead.

Even Koch Industries -- the energy conglomerate owned by billionaires Charles and David Koch -- knows a losing battle when it sees it.

"Koch has not taken a position on the legislative tactic of tying the continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare nor have we lobbied on legislative provisions defunding Obamacare," Philip Ellender, president for government and public affairs for the company, said in a letter to lawmakers, at the same time bemoaning the presumed effects the law will have on deficits, taxes and healthcare standards.

Michael Needham, the chief executive officer of Tea Party interest group Heritage Action, told a Christian Science Monitor breakfast in Washington Obamacare should not be tied to the debt limit even though the group had been in the forefront of the defunding effort.

Perhaps the flight from the defunding fight can be explained in two words: Gallup poll. Polling last week indicated the Republicans' popularity rating was at an all-time low -- 28 percent compared to 43 percent for Democrats -- and Congress overall gets just 5 percent approval.

Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who has been mentioned as a 2016 presidential contender and conducted a non-filibuster filibuster against the ACA, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, have seen their disapproval ratings skyrocket.

Pundits say Republicans are beginning to fear voters will blame them for the shutdown come election time.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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