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Here We Go Again: Is the Republican Ultimatum Just a Stunt or a Feasible Strategy?

Experts on Republican attempt to defund Obamacare

David Sachs / SEIU

Brantly Millegan - published on 09/24/13 - updated on 06/08/17

Republicans have made an ultimatum to Democrats to defund Obamacare or else risk a government shutdown - and our Aleteia Experts disagree on whether that's even a legitimate tactic.

Congress has less than a week to pass a new budget to avoid a government shutdown, and Republicans in the House of Representatives have made an ultimatum to the Democratic President and Democrat-controlled Senate to pass their conservative budget, or else allow a government shutdown. Yes, it's happening again.

This time, the Republicans say they will not pass a budget that includes funding for the implementation of the Affordable Healcare for America Act, popularly known as "Obamacare." President Obama and Democrats in the Senate of course say that they will not pass a budget that doesn't include funding for Obamacare.

Catholics have long objected to the HHS mandate requiring most insurance plans to cover sterilization procedures and contraception (including some drugs suspected of being abortifacient), and Obamacare is what gives the HHS department the authority make those things required. I asked our Aleteia Experts what they thought of this Republican strategy.

"There is no chance of defunding Obamacare in this way," thinks Catholic commentator Russell Shaw. "But that's not the worst of this very dumb idea."

"First of all, it's in conflict with the democratic process. If you don't like a law, you try to repeal it, and if that doesn't succeed, you take the issue to the voters at the next election. Threatening to close down the government if you don't get your way is anti-democratic. Second, it's a loser with public opinion–deeply offensive, with good reason, to millions of Americans, regardless of their views on Obamacare. The people pushing this tactic are making a serious mistake.

Professor of Political Science at Franscican University Stephen Krason disagrees and thinks the Republican strategy has a chance at succeeding, provided Republicans make their case well to the American public. "I don’t think this is in any way a Republican 'stunt,' but whether they can be successful depends on how serious as a group they are about it and how effective they are about getting their message across to the public. That latter involves the educative function of politics, which—in my judgment—the Republican party has not been very good at for a long time."

"Moreover, we need to factor into the current equation that the health care law is not very popular and, in fact, was hardly ever supported by the majority of the public at any point during the entire struggle for its enactment in 2009-2010. It will become increasingly difficult to repeal the health care law if it’s not cut off at the pass now."

Krason thinks Republicans should separate funding for the healthcare law out from the rest of the budget to allow debate without threatening the funding for other programs. "One of the best approaches that Republicans could take is to simply pass resolutions funding everything else in the government—leave cutting other things for another day—except the health care law. Then they need to go to the public and make clear what they have done and how they did it and emphasize that, by refusing to accept this, it is President Obama and his party who are refusing to compromise—due to their unflinching attachment to their unpopular health care law—and thus are the real culprits in the government 'shutdown.'"

Anthonty Esolen, professor of Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College, points to how the situation shows that the ordinary functioning of the federal government has departed from the original vision of its framers. "I'd like to note how far we have drifted from the intentions of the men who framed our Constitution. They specified that all funding bills must originate in the common people's assembly, the House of Representatives. The Senate cannot originate appropriations, and the President cannot do so, either."

"We forget that the President is supposed to be the executor of the bills passed by the House and the Senate. Now then, to say, 'If you Congressmen don't pony up the money we want, we will hold the entire people hostage, by refusing the monies you do appropriate,' is to rob the House of its primary function. It is to make the House dependent upon the Fourth Branch of Government, the vast all-handling and mishandling bureaucracy, which technically is a part of the Executive Branch, but which operates almost independently of any specific instructions from the Executive, and with hardly any oversight by the Congress."

"It's this blundering and often flagrantly unconstitutional Jabba the State that the conflict between the House and the Senate threatens to 'shut down.' The fact that that seems disastrous to us should be a powerful argument against the mere existence of such a thing."

The following Aleteia Experts contributed to this article:

Anthony Esolen teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College. A senior editor for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, he writes regularly for Touchstone, First Things, Catholic World Report, Magnificat, This Rock, and Latin Mass.

Stephen Krason, political science professor at Franciscan University, is a lawyer and the founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He has written numerous books, some academic, some for a larger audience, the most recent being The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic.

Russell Shaw is former Secretary for Public Affairs of the U.S. Catholic bishops conference. His books include American Church: The Remarkable Rise, Meteoric Fall, and Uncertain Future of Catholicism in America and To Hunt, To Shoot, To Entertain: Clericalism and the Catholic Laity.

Health and WellnessPolitics
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