House Republicans expect to vote this Friday on legislation that would risk steep, destabilizing Medicare cuts at the end of the month unless Democrats agree to a five-year delay of Obamacare's individual mandate. It mirrors some of the brinksmanship in the shutdown fight last fall in that the GOP is using a must-pass bill as a vehicle to chop the Affordable Care Act. Democratic leaders have repeatedly rejected proposals to tinker with the mandate to buy insurance and have warned Republicans not to tie a physician payment fix to their partisan quest to unravel Obamacare.
The American system of government was designed, on purpose, to be collaborative and difficult. An idea starts in one chamber, gets sent to committee, works its way to the floor, and might even pass. It then goes to the other chamber, where the process starts over. If all goes well, a president might even sign the measure into law.
It's a long, frustrating process, filled with choke points -- and increasingly, it's a model congressional Republicans have no use for.
If this governing-through-extortion model seems familiar, there's a good reason for that. The idea is being pushed by the same GOP lawmakers who've made related threats -- "Give us what we want or we'll shut down the government" and "Meet our demands or we'll refuse to raise the debt limit" -- to an unprecedented degree.
In this case, House Republicans want to delay the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate -- a policy the GOP used to support until Obama agreed with them -- until 2019. They could introduce a bill to advance their goal, but they realize the legislation would probably fail, so they're skipping the usual process and attaching the idea on a ransom note instead.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), told Sahil Kapur, "This bill represents a new low, even for House Republicans." Hammill added that "irresponsible and dangerous" plan is facing a "legislative dead-end."
On multiple levels, the GOP bill is a genuinely horrible idea.
First, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office examined the House Republican plan and determined that a five-year delay in the mandate would cause health insurance premiums to go up and lead 13 million Americans to go without insurance. Ordinarily, this would be a death knell to a bill -- who wants to vote for higher premiums and fewer insured Americans in an election year -- but because so much of the Republican Party is in a post-policy phase, the CBO's findings have been largely ignored by conservative lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Second, both doctors and the insurance industry have pleaded with GOP lawmakers not to play these misguided games. Ordinarily, that would also matter, but Republicans are blowing them off, too.
Third, if this scheme continues past the deadline, it really will cause significant disruptions in the health care system -- exactly the kind of disruptions conservative policymakers say they're against.
Whether or not House Republicans are bluffing is an open question, and at a certain level, they may not even know themselves. If Dems give in, the GOP will be thrilled. If Dems don't give in, the GOP will be delighted to spotlight Democrats fighting to protect an unpopular policy in an election year.
But in the bigger picture, this constant pattern of moving from one extortion stand-off to another is not only tiresome, it's at odds with how the political system is supposed to operate. It probably won't carry any consequences -- most voters won't hear about this, and Republicans will likely be rewarded in November anyway -- but it's nevertheless worth appreciating the deterioration of the American legislative process.