by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Jim McTague devotes his latest Barron’s “D.C. Current” column to the politics surrounding potential tweaks to the 2010 federal health care reform law.
A hostage taker’s dream—Obamacare—temporarily has gone into hiding. There’s no way the White House will give Republicans the opportunity to drag the landmark law into the debate on debt ceilings and spending cuts.
The president’s signature law takes full effect on Jan. 1, 2014, and he intends to let it rip without major legislative tweaks. The White House is taking a wee gamble: No law ever passed by Congress has been perfect, let alone one that runs close to 2,000 pages and more than 300,000 words. That’s why wags compare Congress’s bill-making process to the manufacture of sausages. If the health-care bill’s rollout is rocky, it would seriously complicate the 2014 election campaigns of Democratic congressional candidates, including 20 running for Senate seats. And according to credible critics from the right and the left, Obamacare badly needs some fixes. …
… Make no mistake, the Republicans on the Hill would love to drag the president’s beloved Obamacare into the budget fray as a hostage. The battered GOP needs all the leverage it can get to battle the popular chief executive. Obama says he won’t agree to deep budget cuts until the Republicans agree to more revenue increases on top of the higher taxes on the rich that they acceded to on New Year’s Day. Republicans have vowed not to raise taxes again. The GOP is threatening to shut down the government if Obama won’t bend, which already is a losing gambit. Last week, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ordinarily a GOP ally, said this must not happen.
Republicans have indicated that they want to avoid sequestration, the steep and indiscriminate budget cuts that would kick in if no agreement is reached by the end of March. So they don’t appear to have a strong hand to play.
The president is too smooth a poker player to toss them his Obamacare ace. He will keep his health-care law off the public radar until late this year when the countdown clock is half run out and budget-fight tempers have cooled off. But by not tweaking the law, Obama is endangering his legacy.