The PJ Tatler

Senator Coburn: Effort to Defund Obamacare 'Dishonest'

If it were just about any other senator making these remarks, most of the GOP could ignore it. But Senator Tom Coburn has a reputation as one of the fiercest budget hawks in the Senate. If he is opposed to “defunding” Obamacare by shutting down the government, a lot of people will listen.

From the Washington Examiner:

In a phone interview from his home state of Oklahoma, Coburn slammed a dozen fellow Republican senators who have signed a pledge not to vote for any continuing resolution or appropriations bill that funds Obamacare, which is set to go fully into effect on January 1, 2014. “I’d love to defund it,” said Coburn, a physician who has opposed the president’s national health care scheme from the beginning. “I’d be leading the charge if I thought this would work. But it will not work.” (For details on the problems with the defunding plan, see here.)

Coburn’s case against the proposal is simple: Republicans, having failed to win control of the White House and Senate in 2012, do not have the votes to cut off Obamacare funding. Given that, he sees the defunding proposal as not just wrongheaded but also an effort to mislead conservatives across the country who long to see Republicans stop Obamacare. “The worst thing is being dishonest with your base about what you can accomplish, ginning everybody up and then creating disappointment,” Coburn said. “It’s a terribly dangerous and not successful strategy.”

“You’re going to set an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve,” Coburn continued. “It’s not an achievable strategy. It’s creating the false impression that you can do something when you can’t. And it’s dishonest.”

Even though Republicans don’t have the votes to defund Obamacare, they do have the power, if they choose, to bring the government to a halt. Coburn sees that as a disastrous possible result of the plan. “You’re not going to stop the funding, but what you will do is shut down the government,” he said. “Among that group of senators that has been considering this, I was the only one who was here for that,” a reference to the government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, when Coburn was a member of the House. “The president is never going to sign a bill defunding Obamacare. Do you think he’s going to cave?”

“The strategy that has been laid out is a good way for Republicans to lose the House.”

There have been all sorts of schemes to shut down the government over the years, as well as claims that it wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience. Brave talk, but the fact is, nobody knows what would happen. Such uncertainty would impact the private sector in unpredictable ways. If it went on long enough, it might even throw the economy back into recession.

By design, funding mechanisms for Obamacare have spread throughout the departments and agencies, making it impossible to cut Obamacare without cutting other functions of government. And the insurance subsidies can’t be cut without specific congressional authorization. Like food stamps, the subsidies are classified as entitlement spending. Trying to get a bill through the Senate and signed by the president that would eliminate insurance subsidies is impossible.

Coburn isn’t the only Republican in the Senate who thinks it’s irrational to try and shut down the government to defund Obamacare. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr thinks its “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.”

Blocking a government funding bill over ObamaCare is “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) said Thursday.

Burr argued stopping ObamaCare’s funding is not going to be achievable as long as President Obama is in the White House, and that Republicans risked taking the blame if they forced the government to shut down over the issue.

“I think it’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard,” Burr told journalist Todd Zwilich on Thursday. “Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president the Affordable Care Act is gonna be law.

“I think some of these guys need to understand that you shut down the federal government, you better have a specific reason to do it that’s achievable,” Burr continued. “Defunding the Affordable Care Act is not achievable through shutting down the federal government.”

Support is building within the House and Senate GOP for using a continuing resolution to fund the government to take a stand on ObamaCare.

At this point, it appears that the movement for a government shutdown has failed to get much support in either the House or Senate. Only 15 senators signed on to Mike Lee’s letter of intent to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, and fewer than a third of Republicans in the House have signed on to a similar letter.

Coburn is right: conservatives are fooling themselves if they think they can put a stop to Obamacare implementation by shutting down the government. It would be better if they directed their energies toward slashing spending in government accounts that they are able to cut rather than those they can’t.