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Getting mad for all the wrong reasons

Nearly a week later, the Affordable Care Act's opponents are still furious that the employer-mandate provision that conservatives opposed won't be implemented

Nearly a week later, the Affordable Care Act's opponents are still furious that the employer-mandate provision that conservatives opposed won't be implemented on schedule. But there's a reason that sentence might seem unusual to you -- if Republicans don't like the employer mandate, why are they outraged that the mandate won't exist until 2015 at the earliest?

The answer is simple, but unsatisfying: Republicans are mad for all the wrong reasons. Brian Beutler had a good piece on this the other day, noting that Obamacare's detractors are, ironically, disappointed that "a problematic provision won't be taking effect right away." Republicans don't want a health care system that works effectively; they want a system that doesn't work effectively so they can complain about it. The White House's decision last week satisfies GOP policy goals, such as they are, but interferes with the GOP's rhetorical goals, which the right obviously sees as more important.


[I]t doesn't take much reading between the lines to recognize what's really going on. Republicans are still committed to the far-fetched objective of repealing Obamacare, and as such have effectively vowed not to work with the administration to fix any of its dysfunctional provisions. To the contrary, the GOP is committed to creating implementation problems where they can, and to making sure existing problems are never fixed, to make the whole program a liability for Democrats.By delaying the employer mandate, the Obama administration unilaterally sidestepped the GOP's strategy. And Republicans aren't happy about it.


Keep in mind, Republican policymakers could, right now, sit down with Democrats to explore scrapping the employer mandate and replacing it with some other policy alternative. But that would require governing, and post-policy nihilists that dominate Republican politics in 2013 aren't even open to that possibility.

We're left with a dynamic that the political establishment still finds difficult to fully grasp: GOP officials could make the federal health care system better and more to their liking, but they see no value in that. They'd rather sabotage it, regardless of the real-world consequences. They could help get rid of a mandate they oppose, but they'd rather keep the policy they hate in the hopes it won't work, people will feel adverse consequences, and there will be new fodder for 30-second attack ads a year from now.

Some people pursue public service want to build things, and some pursue public service because they just want to watch things burn.

This dovetails nicely with news that Republican leaders have urged the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR not to partner with Washington on informing the public about health care benefits Americans are legally entitled to. Kevin Drum had a terrific rant on this.

But not. Conservatives remain so spittle-flecked angry about [Obamacare] that they can't even abide the thought of a sports league helping to run a public education campaign that reduces confusion about who's entitled to what. Even now, they desperately want it to fail. And they're going to do everything they can to help it fail, even if that means screwing over their own constituents. It's a temper tantrum possibly unequalled in American political history.And it's revolting.

I've made a conscious effort to read conservative commentary on this, trying to understand their rationale for such callousness and recklessness. Their argument, in effect, seems to be this: Republicans hate the law, so of course they want it to fail and will continue to do whatever they can to ensure their preferred outcome. If there are elements of Obamacare that need fixing, why should the GOP agree to help clean up the mess? Families may suffer if the system collapses, but it'll clear the way, eventually, for a superior Republican reform plan.

I don't doubt that the right finds this line of thought coherent and persuasive, but their sincerity doesn't make it any less ridiculous. First, there is no precedent for elected federal American officials acting to deliberately sabotage federal law, hurting millions of people on purpose out of partisan spite. That's just madness, but it's currently the status quo.

Second, if GOP policymakers were even remotely serious about governing, they could -- get this -- achieve policy goals they like. This employer mandate is a terrific example of the sort of provision Democrats would gladly trade away, if only they had someone to trade with. Republicans could, in other words, score policy victories if they just tried.

People forget this, but shortly before Obamacare became law, several GOP leaders said they agreed with "80 percent" of the Democratic plan -- and that was before the public option was scuttled, which means in the end, Republicans agreed with more than 80 percent of the law. GOP officials could move it even closer to their preferred vision if they'd only take public policy seriously for a short while.

As for someday replacing the Affordable Care Act with a far-right, Republican-friendly alternative, we've been waiting for years for a half-way-credible GOP plan, and there's a good reason one has never materialized: they really don't give a darn. They saw the old, dysfunctional mess -- the one the public demanded be reformed; the one that cost too much and covered too few -- and said it was good enough to leave in place indefinitely.

The most generous thing I can say about their approach is that it's fundamentally unserious about helping anyone. The least generous thing I can say is probably inappropriate for a family-friendly blog.