Purists and pragmatists inside the Republican party are chewing each other up over a now-failed effort to weaken the Affordable Care Act.
April 25, 2013

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Yummy right-wing infighting over the Affordable Care Act has just spilled over onto Buzzfeed's pages, revealing a cynical plot to weaken the Affordable Care Act and purists' efforts to kill it.

I have to admit, Eric Cantor came up with a cynical, but politically effective way to hose Democrats over Obamacare last week. He came up with the idea of extending the federally-funded high risk pools for people with pre-existing conditions by pulling earmarked funds out of the Prevention Fund. The Prevention Fund was the brainchild of Senator Tom Harkin, who believes that public education and prevention efforts are as powerful as treating the diseases themselves.

Because funds for the federally-funded high risk pools have been exhausted earlier than expected, Eric Cantor hatched his plan. He would introduce a bill called the Help Sick Americans Now Act, which would extend the federal high risk pools with funds taken from the Prevention Fund. Democrats would then be forced to vote against a measure that would fund pools to insure them from now until January 1, 2014 when the pre-existing conditions exclusion disappears and the exchanges open for individuals to purchase health coverage.

It's important to point out that those who are already covered in the high-risk pools won't lose coverage, but because funding is exhausted, no new entrants can use that program. That means some people will be without access to insurance coverage for the next eight months or so, unless they are employed by someone who offers group insurance.

Ted Cruz and the Tea Party purists threw a hissy fit over it, and Buzzfeed has the leaked emails to prove it. Here are some snippets of the catfight:

In the emails, Cruz Chief of Staff Chip Roy and legislative assistant Alec Aramanda not only slammed the bill but accused Cantor of hypocrisy and questioned his and his supporters' fealty to the full repeal of Obamacare.

Cantor and his supporters wanted to "create a message in support of funding parts of Obamacare … build upon the misguided notion that pre-existing conditions should be taken care of by government (and thus undermining the very purpose of getting insurance) and create a 'win' that only wonks on list-serves [sic] in DC get excited about," Roy wrote in one email.

Similarly, Aramanda also flatly rejected the bill. Instead of providing a fix to Obamacare, Aramanda argued, Republicans and conservatives should focus on "repeal[ing] Obamacare and mak[ing] the case — as John Cochrane has — that liberty solves the problem … the Pelosi logic of passing a bill to find out what's inside it looks like evil genius when compared to our insistence on fixing that cancerous bill without thinking through how the other side might use process to expose GOP policy hypocrisy."

Liberty! Of course, liberty! Liberty to die, liberty to suffer. That kind of liberty.

While I hesitate to characterize the Grover Norquist gang as 'pragmatic', it seems they were willing to be for the sake of a political hit job on Democrats, anyway:

A number of influential activists, including Independent Women's Forum CEO Heather Higgins, Americans for Tax Reform's Ryan Ellis, and others, vigorously defended Cantor's bill.

Following the bill's defeat, Ellis wrote bluntly, "Now nothing will happen. I'd rather have tried than made the perfect the enemy of the good. Longer term, this makes this entire coalition decidedly unserious and a liability rather than an asset. But don't fret — now we don't have to worry about seven months of a federal risk pool tainting our ideological purity."

Oooh, fightin' words. I can almost see the sarcasm dripping from them, can't you? In a different email, Ellis took the purist coalition on directly:

"There really isn't a difference. This repeals part of the bill in a particularly-painful way politically [for Democrats], he argued. "It does so in a way that cripples Obamacare's ultimate success. That's exactly what we did with 1099 … This vote is all about political pressure. If the vote were simply to repeal a slush fund, that creates a discomfort level of X for vulnerable House Dems. But to vote to repeal a slush fund AND use the money to get sick = people health insurance? X on steroids. Which version would you rather vote against if you were a Blue Dog?"

That argument sparked a protracted technical debate. On the 19th, Roy, the Cruz staffer, interjected, "I have no idea about all that, but the message sucks. We oppose Obamacare. Period. We will repeal it. Period."

Ellis is right. Politically, it was a diabolical and also effective way to do harm to Democrats' advantage over the ACA. But Cruz and the purists were having none of it, and ultimately, they won.

It's silly season right now when it comes to Obamacare. In eight months this will be a reality. There will be complaints and Republicans will definitely try to make it look like Armageddon has come to America, but for the vast majority of Americans, it will change their lives and make them better, healthier, and more secure. I expect there will be much more noise, and many more efforts to repeal and or cripple it from this Congress.

Whether the purity trolls in the GOP like it or not, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay, and there isn't a damn thing they can do about it.

The funniest part about the whole thing to me is seeing some Republicans cede pre-existing conditions. Make no mistake about this: The Cruz contingent is being pushed by insurers all over the country. This fight was and continues to be about covering pre-existing conditions and establishing access to health care for everyone, whether Ted Cruz and his gang like it or not.

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