With implementation of the Affordable Care Act proceeding apace, the Obama administration has already talked about how best to reach the public, letting Americans know about benefits available to eligible families. The point of a public-relations campaign is obvious: not only will it benefit families who could use the help, but the more people participate, the more effective the law.
Republican leaders are well aware of this, and have begun pushing back aggressively, last week urging the commissioners of the National Football League and other major sports leagues not to help the U.S. government get the word out in any way.
"Given the divisiveness and persistent unpopularity of the bill, it is difficult to understand why an organization like yours would risk damaging its inclusive and apolitical brand by lending its name to a promotion," wrote Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Minority Whip John Cornyn of Texas in the letters, which were dated Thursday. [...]In the letters to the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA and NASCAR, the two senators also ask the leagues to notify them if anyone in the Obama administration exerts undue pressure to get them to support any pro-health care law marketing efforts.
Given what we've seen in recent years, the letters to the sports leagues certainly don't come as a surprise. Indeed, they're not happening in a vacuum, either -- Trivis Waldron noted on Friday that some conservative activists are threatening to turn their backs on the NFL if professional football partners with the U.S. government on this. The Weekly Standard, for example, said it would be "yet another reminder that football is best watched on Saturdays."
There's also the not-so-subtle irony of Mitch McConnell whining incessantly for several weeks about a "culture of intimidation," while he quietly presses the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR not to cooperate with federal officials -- because he says so.
But let's also not overlook the policy significance of this.
The reason the Senate minority leadership sent these letters is because they desperately hope to sabotage the post-reform health care system. As McConnell and Cornyn see it, if sports leagues help the government get the word out about, and Americans take advantage of the benefits they're entitled to, then the Affordable Care Act will succeed.
And success for "Obamacare" isn't something GOP officials are prepared to tolerate, so they're using their public offices to pressure the private sector to help undermine the law's efficacy.
As Jonathan Bernstein explained the other day, "It's possible that the ACA will collapse. But if it does, it's unlikely it will be the result of inherent problems with the legislation. If Obamacare fails, it's going to be because the Republican Party's all-out war on it -- a war that doesn't seem to have any concern at all for health-care consumers or the economy -- succeeds. Whether that's a good thing for health care? Well, that doesn't seem to be part of the equation."
Quite right. If Republicans can successfully sabotage the law, they win -- even if you and your family lose. We're watching one of those unusual dynamics in which federal officials actively and deliberately try to undermine other federal officials in the hopes of sabotaging federal law.
And no one seems to find this scandalous, or even surprising.
Finally, note that the Republican efforts may already be succeeding.
The National Football League is used to big, bruising battles. But on Friday, it announced that it was likely staying out of one of the roughest fights in Washington: the war over Obamacare. [...]Asked about the congressional letter, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had not made any commitment to the administration."We have responded to the letters we received from members of Congress to inform them we currently have no plans to engage in this area and have had no substantive contact with the administration about [the health-care law's] implementation," he said in an e-mail.The NFL's decision is the latest blow to the administration over the health-care law, which faces enormous hurdles as key portions go into effect in the coming months.
When the federal government is divided against itself, implementing federal law is certainly more difficult than it should be.