Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Only Thing That Could Break the Fever

So, the Republicans allowed a clean debt ceiling increase to pass.  Is this a sign that the fever has finally broken?  I would say yes and no.  Ultimately, only one thing was ever going to break the fever -- return to power.  Once Republicans return to power, two things will happen.  First, the electorate will hold them responsible if they do anything too nutty.  Second, the natural order will be restored and they won't have to panic and set out to destroy government because they will now be confident that it will never fall into the hands of the Democrats again.  Right now, Republicans see the mid-terms as theirs to lose.  They will run against Obamacare and coast to victory, barring spectacularly self-destructive behavior, and they fully expect to win the triple crown in 2016.  So right now they are holding the nuttiness in check until after the election.

So, what happens after the 2014 midterms (assuming Republicans are right and they retake the Senate)?  To they look ahead to the 2016 election and maintain discipline until then, or do they sigh with relief and set out to destroy the Kenyan Muslim socialist anti-colonialist and his monstrous Obamacare once and for all?  In other words, having put off any debt ceiling confrontations until after the next election, will they then promptly come out swinging and push for the biggest ransom demand yet?

I  am not a Republican, so I cannot answer.  But I see a definite risk in a strategy of all-out confrontation, or root-and-branch opposition to Obamacare.  It is one thing to run for election by denouncing Obamacare, blaming it for every disruption in insurance that has happened since its implementation, and calling for its repeal.  It is quite another to actually undo the disruptions that have happened (whether related to Obamacare or not) and to refrain from causing any more.  Put differently, running on a platform of anger over Obamacare is one thing.  Any actual attempt to repeal it is another.  At least one commentator believes that Republicans will be willing to vote to repeal the Medicaid expansion and strip millions of their health insurance from anyone on their states, or anyone who would vote Republican, so why not.  But Obama would presumably  veto any such measure passed in the ordinary course of legislation, so they would have to resort to a debt ceiling confrontation to actually pass it.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Most other attempts to end Obamacare will mean shutting down exchanges where some portion of the population buys insurance, stripping people of subsidies, seeking to raise rates and cut benefits, and other measures that will not be popular.  In the meantime, further disruptions may or may not occur in late 2014, but it seems a safe assumption that more people will also sign up.  And by 2015 and 2016, most of the worst disruptions will be past, and repeal will be more disruptive than letting the status quo remain.

In short, running against Obamacare in 2014 may well be a winning issue.  Spending the next two years trying to shut down exchanges, strip people of insurance or subsidies, raise premiums, and cause general disruption, and pledging in 2016 to finish the job is unlikely to succeed.

Nonetheless, I see no reason to doubt the conventional wisdom that says the Republican will take the Senate in November.  Forecast: two very rough years ahead.

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