House Republicans have decided to try to use the budget process to defund Obamacare, and this has made American liberals very angry indeed. Their commentary on the situation is, however, highly self-serving.
House Republicans have passed a measure that will temporarily fund the government but that includes no funding for the Affordable Care Act. For this liberal politicians and journalists have condemned them as “hostage takers.” They use this expression so commonly, even uniformly, that you have to suspect that a memo was circulated instructing them to talk this way. Probably this did happen at some point, but is now no longer necessary, since the habit has become ingrained.
But saying something repeatedly does not make it accurate or fair. Is it really necessary to point out that this kind of rhetoric is abusive to (and past) the point of absurdity? A hostage taker is doing a criminal act. The House Republicans are, in contrast, exercising a perfectly legitimate power. The Constitution gives the House the authority to originate spending bills, and they have now originated one that pays for everything that everybody agrees on, but not the thing that is disputed. Liberals have every right to disagree with the House, but they can’t really condemn it as acting thuggishly except on the theory that any exercise of power is illegitimate that keeps liberals from getting what they want.
It gets worse: the charge of hostage taking is groundless, but if it is going to be made, it could just as easily be made against the Democratic senate or the president. The senate Democrats say they won’t accept any spending measure that doesn’t fund Obamacare. Similarly, the president says he will veto any spending measure that doesn’t fund Obamacare. In other words, they are willing to stop all government spending if they don’t get their way. They are just as much hostage takers as the House GOP.
The other charge liberals make against the House GOP is that they are a bunch of “extremists.” This is a very common and a very useless complaint in politics. It does not serve, and it is not intended, to enlighten the discussion of any issue on its merits. All it means is: “most people disagree with what you say, so you must be wrong.” This is not exactly a model of rational discourse. Nevertheless, to the extent that it means anything, it is hard to see how it could apply to the House Republicans on this issue. They are opposing Obamacare, which is by every measure an unpopular law. A majority of Americans opposed it when it passed, and they have continued to oppose it since. Say what you want about it, but it is hard to see how representing public opinion on this matter is an act of extremism.
This brings me to a final point about who is really behaving badly in this situation. Critics will say that the Republicans are grandstanding, because they should know that the president will never accept a funding measure that defunds Obamacare. But why won’t he? Ask the in-the-know, inside-the-beltway commentators, and they will say something like this: the president cannot be expected to go along with a defunding or delay, much less the repeal, of the Affordable Care Act, because it is his “signature legislative achievement.” Put that in plain language and it means that the president will not go along with the neutering of an unpopular law because of personal and/or political vanity. Why is that to pass without comment while the House Republicans are vilified for not voting to fund what they disagree with and won office disagreeing with?