When congressional Republicans condemn the Affordable Care Act, there’s one problematic word in particular they tend to use an awful lot. The Hill did a nice job picking up on the trend.
In floor speeches, TV interviews and town halls, Republicans often refer to President Obama’s signature healthcare law either as “ObamaCare” or a healthcare “bill” — subtly implying that it’s not truly permanent.
“The bill is named after the president. Why wouldn’t the president want to be under the bill?” Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) asked in a floor speech earlier this month, making the case that the president should get his healthcare through ObamaCare.
It’s clear that Enzi, who famously admitted that he engaged in health care reform negotiations in bad faith, is confused. The name of the reform law is technically the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act,” not “Obamacare,” so it’s not “named after the president.”
But that’s not the important thing. Rather, note that Enzi refers to the law as a “bill.” So does Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who said last week that “this bill,” referring to the health care law, is going to hurt people. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said there are “a host of problems [with] this bill.” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said “this bill” isn’t working. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) chastised Democrats for supporting “this dog of a bill.”
Keep in mind, all of these quotes come from this month – September 2013 – not from the debate when the law was actually still a bill.
The Hill’s report added that the Kaiser Family Foundation recently found that roughly 40% of Americans don’t know that the Affordable Care Act is, to use John Boehner’s phrase, the law of the land. One possible explanation for such widespread ignorance is the way in which congressional Republicans mislead the public in such a brazen way.
But stepping past the rhetoric, there’s also a substantive significance to this.
If you listened to the House floor debate on Saturday night or watched the Sunday shows, you know the GOP desperately hopes to characterize the current crisis as a “both sides” problem so it won’t receive the bulk of the blame. To hear Republicans tell it, they demand that “Obamacare” be gutted, while Democrats demand that “Obamacare” be implemented. “See?” conservatives say, “both sides are making demands.”
The problem, of course, is that this is almost unimaginably dumb. What Democrats are arguing is that the law is already the law; it’s met constitutional muster according to the U.S. Supreme Court; and it’s up to the president to faithfully execute current laws. If Republicans want to change the law, they can introduce legislation and give it their best shot.
Both sides, in other words, aren’t making comparable “demands” – one side expects existing law to be implemented, the other expects to use extortion to undermine the law they claim to dislike.
It’s very likely why so many Republican U.S. senators, who presumably have some understanding of the differences between a “bill” and a “law,” keep deliberately getting this wrong. If the Affordable Care Act is just a “bill,” then it’s not fully legitimate and Republicans are justified in trying to sabotage it outside the American legislative process.