The standard line from Democrats is that Congress passed ObamaCare and it’s the law of the land, end of discussion. That disguises the ugly truth about how the Affordable Care Act became law, why it’s running into so many problems, and why it is passionately hated by conservatives.
Consider a little history: The Social Security Act was enacted in 1935 with three times as many GOP yes votes as nays in the Senate and five times more yes ballots than nos in the House. In 1965, with President Lyndon Johnson working his masterly legislative prowess, nearly half of Senate Republicans backed Medicare, and in the House it got more GOP yes votes than no votes.
Contrast that to ObamaCare — it passed without a Republican vote for it in the Senate or House.
Now, you might argue today’s Republican Party is different from, say, the one in 1965 that stamped a bipartisan seal of approval of Medicare. But the Democratic Party is different as well, as evidenced by its steamrolling the Affordable Care Act through Congress without any serious effort to incorporate significant Republican health care ideas.
It’s not like there was no bipartisan approach to reform. Republican Robert Bennett of Utah joined with Democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon to sponsor a universal health-care coverage bill with important cost-containment ideas. The Healthy Americans Act picked up 10 co-sponsors, four of them Republicans, but it was doomed by a Democratic leadership grown insolent with overwhelming majorities in Congress.
What a contrast to 1965 when the Medicare law included a key provision that had it origins in a Republican proposal — supplemental coverage, which most seniors now buy.
The no-trespass sign to the GOP during the writing of the Affordable Care Act deprived it of the benefits of critical scrutiny and helpful ideas from the business community that is a primary GOP constituent.
That kind of input might have prevented many of the calamities caused by ObamaCare: the uncertainty prompting employers to put off hiring; the high costs provoking big businesses like Delta and Walgreens to shed coverage, and others to shift parts of their workforce from full to part time; the threat to union-negotiated medical insurance, and the unpopularity of the law.
While Social Security and Medicare always had hard-core foes on the right, that was nothing like the broad, persistent and combative enmity directed at ObamaCare. Democrats have no one to blame but their our-way-or-the-highway approach.
But Tea Party Republicans are letting blinding hatred of the law blind them to the political consequences of being blamed for a potential government shutdown in their fight to defund the law. A better approach would be to capitalize on voter discontent by pushing to delay the individual mandate (as the White House did for the employer mandate) or forcing members of Congress to play by the same rules as the public.
Democratic go-it-alone arrogance built a potentially fatal political flaw in ObamaCare. Republicans shouldn’t let a zealous defund-or-shut-down-government strategy wound GOP electoral prospects in 2014 and rescue the law from the fate it deserves.