The Republicans determined to defund ObamaCare are getting a little competition in the ideas department. Maybe there's hope for progress against the president's health-care law after all.
The question of how the GOP should handle ObamaCare has of late been dominated by those who want the party to strip funding from the law, then shut down the government unless President Obama agrees. The Defund Republicans aren't a large faction of the conservative movement, and their plan is deeply flawed. Their strength has been in exploiting the notable lack of alternate strategies for undercutting the unpopular health law.
That's changing. A swelling coalition of conservative activists—card-carrying members of the "repeal ObamaCare" campaign—are lighting up the movement with a different approach. The plan aims to leverage public support, play on Democrat weaknesses, and, most notably, sidestep a shutdown fight that would damage the GOP even as it failed to kill the law. Meet the "Delay coalition."
The rallying cry of the Defunders is that this moment is the GOP's "last chance" to put the brakes on ObamaCare. Yet by that very logic, the GOP strategy had better offer a chance at success. Shutdown doesn't. Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats will never agree to tank their signature achievement. The White House is salivating over the chance to pin a shutdown on Republicans, since honest polls show the public is opposed to shutting down government over ObamaCare. Even the Defund ringleaders admit—at least in private—that this fight isn't going to end with a defunded law.
The Delay strategy is at least aimed at an achievable goal. Its outlines are contained in a letter engineered by Heather Higgins, CEO of Independent Women's Voice. The letter was crafted with the aid of influential repeal activists—Phil Kerpen at American Commitment, Grover Norquist and Ryan Ellis at Americans for Tax Reform, the Galen Institute's Grace-Marie Turner, Jim Capretta, Ken Hoagland, Avik Roy, the list rolls on—and now has more than 40 signatures. The letter calls on congressional Republican leaders to use one of this fall's legislative fights to impose a one-year delay of ObamaCare's individual mandate, exchange subsidies and taxes.
The political calculus is that delay, unlike defund, pushes Democrats to do something that many are already inclined to do. The president himself has endorsed delay for key parts of the bill—the employer mandate, out-of-pocket-caps, income verification requirements. Unions, the bedrock of the liberal base, are demanding wholesale changes in the law. Vulnerable Senate Democrats know the ObamaCare exchanges are a pending disaster, and they are terrified of political fallout. Twenty-two House Democrats in July voted with Republicans to delay the individual mandate.
An ObamaCare delay, the coalition argues, is also in line with public opinion. Whereas shutdown would prove a complex and messy PR job, the public is already highly educated on the big ObamaCare issues. A majority opposes provisions like the individual mandate, and is worried by the exchanges. The president's own delays have handed Republicans powerful messaging tools. They can enlist the public to pressure Democrats to grant individuals the same mandate reprieve Mr. Obama has gifted to business, and to delay exchanges that lack the verification and security procedures necessary to protect taxpayers and confidential information.
Delay proponents maintain this strategy answers the "last chance" question. A one-year delay would kick these provisions to the heat of the 2014 midterms, a point at which Democrats will be more loath to continue. It provides Republicans the opportunity to make 2014 another referendum on ObamaCare, furthering their cause of holding the House and retaking the Senate—at which point they'd be far better positioned to dismantle the law. A government shutdown would only hurt their election prospects.
The Delay coalition is far from unified on specifics. Some argue that the best moment for this fight is within the coming debate over government funding. Some see the moment in the debt-ceiling brawl. Others wonder if there's leverage in the president's desire to renew unemployment benefits.
There's an internal debate over whether Republicans should push for a delay of the entire law, or isolated pieces. And there's disagreement over tactics, emphasis and the chances of success. All of which is healthy. vMost of the signatories to the Delay coalition letter are also on record supporting a House vote to defund ObamaCare. They, too, advocate putting the heat on the left. But they argue that, if and when a defund bill fails to proceed in Harry Reid's Senate, Republicans need a savvy and proactive alternative to shutdown, one that has a chance of success.
That's an honorable tactical position, and one that any conservative who wants to kill this law should at least consider. Perhaps there are even better ways than "delay" of undermining the law. We won't know until the GOP calls a truce in its circular firing squad and starts talking smart strategy. The inexcusable tragedy of this August recess is that Republicans are so busy fighting one another over how to pressure Democrats that they've utterly failed to pressure Democrats. Headlines are nice. Victories are better.