Let's Fix This Country

Obama, McConnell, Boehner: Niceties Over, Combat Begins

Americans want to see Congress and the President "get stuff done", as Obama put it, but the opening sentences of press conferences expressing earnest desires to do so quickly turned to threats. The media focused on presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's "red flag in front of a bull" and House Speaker John Boehner's jumbled metaphor warning Obama he would "poison the well…when you play with matches" if he unilaterally acts on immigration. But you've heard about that repeatedly. More useful here is to dig a little deeper and listen to what else was said about Republican plans now that they control both Senate and House.

obamacare vendetta

Not two days had passed before an op-ed co-written by McConnell and Boehner appeared in The Wall Street Journal that right off renewed their "commitment to repeal Obamacare". Not fix, repeal. "I'm sure at some point next year we will move to repeal Obamacare because it should be repealed", Boehner said in his press conference the same day.

This time it won't just be the House voting to repeal 50-or-so times, but McConnell's Senate signing on as well. It was he who said, "I want to pull this law out, root and branch" a year and a half ago. His press conference the day after the election left no doubt that this intention has not abated. "Every one of my members thinks that Obamacare was a huge legislative mistake. It's fouled up the health insurance market, put states in a deep hole in terms of the Medicaid expansion and their own ability to finance it a few years from now. If I had the ability...obviously, I'd get rid of it".

It was a curious choice of "facts", though. Insurers have millions more new customers and to get in on the action there will be a 25% increase of insurers joining the exchanges in 2015. As for Medicaid, because the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government cannot constitutionally force the states to expand their programs, opting to do so is therefore voluntary. The 27 states that took up the the Affordable Care Act's offer to pay all of its cost for the first two years and never more than 10% in the years thereafter presumably decided they can handle that future cost or they would not have volunteered. Most of the 23 states that have refused have Republican governors and/or legislatures and do not face any financial burden from the Act, so what is McConnell's point?

He went on to say about Obamacare that "there are pieces of it that are deeply, deeply unpopular with the American people". The average of seven October polls tallied at Real Clear Politics has 51.6% against and 38.1% for Obamacare. Exit polls taken by CNN had 47% saying Obamacare went too far, but that left 53% saying it was either about right or didn't go far enough.

The oft-reported anomaly about the Affordable Care Act is that since its beginning a firm majority has always been against it. But when people are asked about the Act's individual features — insurers cannot deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions, cannot cancel insurance of those who fall ill, keeps young persons on their parent's insurance until age 26 — they like the particulars. A vigorous attempt to kill the law could backfire on the Republicans when families realize those benefits are being yanked away. And after going through the signup upheaval, will the public erupt when told they have to do it all over again?

President Obama will obviously veto any repeal attempt, but "that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do other things", said Boehner. The expectation is that the Republican-controlled Congress will instead chip away at the healthcare law. First and foremost, the individual mandate. "People hate it", said McConnell. "There are Democrats and Republicans who believe [it] is unfair", said Boehner.

But that's another Obama veto. He might even underscore his signature. Obamacare is engineered to work financially for both government and the insurers. Whether the equation is properly balanced is yet to be learned, but knock this key support out from under it — that everyone of certain means must pay for insurance — and the program will crash. That, of course, is a wreck that Republicans yearn to witness.

Both cited repeal of the medical device tax, which McConnell says " has exported an enormous number of jobs", as well as getting rid of the "IPAD" — the Independent Payment Advisory Board, and restoring 40 hours as the definition of full-time employment.

That last is aimed at the Affordable Care Act's requiring business to pay for health insurance for employees who work more than 30 hours a week. If the criterion were changed to 40 hours, employers would not have to harm workers by cutting their hours to avoid insurance; they could instead send them home at 39:45 hours to duck the requirement.

purse strings

In his press conference, McConnell put the Obama administration on notice that Congress will use the budget to put a crimp in its ambitions. "The President does not sign the budget", he pointed out, and only 51 votes are needed for passage. "It's reasonable to assume that we will use the power of the purse to push back against this overactive bureaucracy and of course we have a huge example of that in [Kentucky] with the war on coal". He went on to attack the EPA plan to encourage cap-and-trade as a means to reduce power plant emissions as so unpopular that it couldn't attract enough votes in Congress even when "our friends on the other side owned the place" with "huge majorities". So we can expect McConnell and cohort to send Obama's pollution reduction plans reeling backward.


The pundits have concluded that the Republican sweep owes more to dissatisfaction with the Obama administration than enthusiasm for the conservatives' program. Many conservative policies are also deeply, deeply unpopular. Raising the minimum wage stands not a chance of passage, but enjoys landslide backing by the public. In his press conference, Obama pointed out that "in the five states where a minimum wage increase was on the ballot last night, voters went five for five to increase it" — four of them red states. There is strong opposition to approving the Keystone pipeline, which is one of the first things McConnell and Boehner have said they will move on. Even the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard acknowledges programs that "voters aren't buying":

The standard GOP establishment tax and budget playbook might also be a rough sell. Establishment Republicans strongly favor comprehensive tax reform, and most current GOP versions of that would raise taxes on many middle- and upper-middle-income families while lowering taxes for those earning $500,000 or more annually.

And, of course, they want to cut Social Security and Medicare. The article continues:

Favoring budget stability and investment by the wealthy over continuation of the old age safety net Americans are familiar with, are unlikely to be shared by voters who already think the economic system is rigged for the rich.

the deluge

McConnell twice alluded to some 360 bills passed by the House but blocked by Harry Reid's Senate.

"Presidents do have the right to veto, something the President hasn't had to do. I think he vetoed two little bills in six years. The first two years he loved everything he got, and the last four years the current majority made sure he never got anything he didn't like…Now he's going to have a Congress that is going to be more challenging for him".

The other Kentucky senator, Rand Paul had said, "We will send the President bill after bill until he wearies of it". He was talking about Obamacare but it could also suggest to cynics a larger, unspoken — equally cynical — Republican plot: to send bill after bill to Obama's desk over the next two years that the President is sure to veto. "There's only one Democrat who counts, the President", said McConnell. "Democrats in Congress will support whatever he wants to do". So that plan would perpetuate the gridlock and shift all its blame to Democrats, allowing Republicans to make the case in the run-up to 2016 that what's lacking is a Republican president to work with the Republican Senate and House to finally get America back on track.

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