Saturday, September 28, 2013

Getting To Blink Or Blame

I continue to try to understand what the Republicans are trying to accomplish when it comes to Obamacare.

They clearly think it is bad law.  It will be detrimental to our health care system and bad for our economy and our country.  For every positive aspect in the law there are hundreds of negatives.  It has "train wreck" written all over it.

However, the Republicans appear to have been burned so many times by the promise and allure of government programs that the Democrats sell to the public (of course, someone else always pays the bill), they don't really believe it.  The only thing they really believe is that this law will create more government, more dependency and more Democrats in the future.

If they are correct, we have reached a sad state of affairs.  I prefer to believe that the majority of people in this country still have some common sense.  My advice to the Republicans is to fashion their strategy over the next few days to more common sense arguments.

Negotiations are won by playing up your advantages and taking advantage of the other side's weakness.  It is fairly simple.  However, you need to really understand what these advantages and disadvantages are.

Let's look at the state of play in the Continuing Resolution negotiations.

The federal government does not have a budget for the new fiscal year that begins on Tuesday, October 1.  It needs Congress to pass, and the President to sign, a continuing resolution to fund the government by that time or there will be a government shutdown.

Although all essential functions of government will continue, there will be enough disruption of government services, that is assumed that the public will not be happy.  Parks will close, passports will be delayed and the good people of the will lose their patience with the ineptitude of those in Washington, D.C.

Who is to blame if this occurs?

That is the first question to ask and answer when assessing advantages and disadvantages.

It really comes down to who appears to have been more reasonable to the public in their negotiating position before negotiations broke down.

As it has stood up until now, the Republicans look more unreasonable in asking for the defunding of Obamacare.  It simply looks to common sense folks that the Republicans are poor losers.  They lost in 2008 when healthcare reform was an issue in the election, they lost in the Supreme Court and they lost again in the 2012 election.  They put themselves in a terrible negotiating position by pressing the defund strategy.

I had written previously that this was flawed strategy and suggested a stronger and more defensible strategy in "There Is A Better Way To Defund Obamacare."  My argument was that the Republicans should merely ask that Obamacare be funded to the exact level that it was supposed to be when the law was passed.  After all, this is a budget negotiation, what is more reasonable than asking that the law live within its original budget projection?  This would mean that $27 billion would need to be cut from Obamacare's costs for 2014.  It also happens to be almost the exact projected costs of the individual subsidies in the law.  Without those subsidies, Obamacare cannot create any dependency.

If Obama did not want to agree, he was once again a budget buster.  If the government shut down, he was the one that caused it by being unreasonable.  After all, the Republicans only asked him live within the original cost projections of his law.

Of course, that opportunity was missed.  What can the Republicans do now?

Their most important priority is putting President Obama at a disadvantage.

That will not be accomplished by asking for an overall delay of Obamacare for one year.  My opinion is that this actually plays into Obama's hands.  Obama might actually welcome this deal in that it appears that Obamacare is faced with innumerable implementation problems.  By taking the deal, Obama makes himself look magnanimous while also buying an additional year to insure that the technology and other implementation issues can be fixed.  When it does go live a year from now, it will all look like much ado about nothing right before the 2014 elections.

Why would the Republicans want to give Obama another year to figure this out?

A better strategy is to look at Obama's weaknesses and take advantage of those in the negotiations.

First, Obamacare is certain to have a number of implementation and technology issues.  The large number of waivers and extensions (in contravention of the clear letter of the law) is clear evidence of that.  Republicans should be pushing for the overall law to take effect as scheduled to see this play out.

If Obamacare gets off to a rough start with the public due to chaos and confusion with the health exchanges this could signal deep problems for the program going forward. It is hard to recover from poor first impressions, especially if media attention picks up on it. A compliant Obama-friendly media is not likely to be eager to play up any problems. However, they may not be able to avoid it. If they jump on the bandwagon if things go poorly it will be difficult to turn around the public's perception of the program.

Second, instead of a one-year delay in the entire law the Republicans should only be asking only for a one-year delay in the individual mandate.  This is entirely justified in that Obama has already provided a one-year delay in the employer mandate.  Asking for a one-year delay of the entire law is not much different that trying to defund.  It looks like sour grapes to most people. However, asking for a one-year delay in the individual mandate is a simple question of fairness and equity.  It is a common sense request that would be hard for Obama to defend himself against.  You gave it to employers why not to individuals?  That is not fair!

Of course, he knows that without the individual mandate the entire Obamacare structure will fall apart.  Those with expensive health conditions will enroll.  The young and healthy will have no incentive to do so.  This will mean that health insurance rates for next year will skyrocket.  And those rates will be in the news right before the 2014 mid-term elections.  This is exactly what the Republicans need to occur to build the constituency to repeal the law.

An additional argument for the delay of the individual mandate is that when he ran against Hillary Clinton in the 2008 primaries Obama argued against the individual mandate that Clinton had as part of her health care plan.  It is time to remind the American public of this again.  Why is he so insistent on it now when he was against it then?  They should also be reminded that in 2006 he was against an increase in the debt ceiling limit.  Do you see a pattern here?

Third, the Republicans should insist that the subsidies that are being provided to Congress and their staffs to offset the cost of healthcare insurance in the exchanges should be prohibited.  Of course, this is actually the way the law is written but the Obama administration has simply ignored the law and ruled that Congress will receive a subsidy to pay 72% of the cost regardless of income.  

This is an extraordinary weakness for Obama in that he is providing benefits to those in D.C. that are simply not available to the average American.  It doesn't get much better than this in a common sense position that the American people will understand.  Of course, to do that they are also voting against their own self-interest.  They will be taking money out of their own pockets and from their staffs.  However, they were not elected to represent themselves, they were elected to represent us.  It is time to show us they do.

In summary...

Forget about any one-year delay of Obamacare in return for the passage of the Continuing Resolution.  

The Republicans should merely ask for a one-year delay in the individual mandate and that Congress and the White House participate in Obamacare in identical fashion as everyone else.

If they do this, the Republicans will be talking common sense.  The Republicans are on the high ground with this strategy.  Obama will be on defense.

If the government shuts down who is the public going to blame?

My bet is the guy who gave a one year delay to businesses but would not do so for individuals and the guy who wanted to give a special break to his Washington friends that he was not willing to give to the average American.

If I am a Republican and I use this strategy, I would then sit back and let Obama make his choice.  Does he really want to defend the indefensible?

The way I look at it, anything that happens from that point forward means I win.  Obama blinks or ends up with a lot of blame.  The government is starved of funds or Obamacare is starved of oxygen it needs to survive. I can live with either result.  Can Obama and the Democrats say the same?

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