Last night, the House of Representatives, the legislative chamber of Congress closest to American popular opinion, voted to repeal Obamacare—the increasingly unpopular law which led directly to a change in the control of Congress just three months ago.
Many will tell you that yesterday’s bipartisan vote of 245 to 189 was an exercise in futility—an empty, symbolic measure. Liberals in Congress, the White House and their echo chamber in the media all insist, as NPR has duly reported, that “this measure will go no further.”
Don’t believe this for a single minute. The vote last night was an important step in the democratic process of protecting and conserving our constitutional freedoms.
Our country, it is increasingly clear, has arrived at a pivotal moment – perhaps the pivotal moment – in its history. Together, we face a choice between two futures. One is a collectivist future where the federal government claims ever increasing shares of our income and grants itself the authority to make decisions affecting virtually every aspect of our daily lives. The other future is built upon the idea that individual freedom trumps government authority, and that in those rare cases when solving a problem requires government, the government that governs best is the one that is smallest and closest to the people. That is the future that we should seek – reaffirming our individual liberty, strengthening private markets, shrinking the size of governments, and making decisions wherever possible at the local level rather than in Washington.
No issue joins this debate more dramatically than the question of Obamacare, and what to do about it. It’s not just about health care. The law redefines our centuries-old understanding of the reach of federal authority, indeed whether there are any limits at all to the government’s ability to intrude upon individuals, families, business owners, physicians and other health providers, and state and local governments. Little or nothing will be allowed outside the new regulatory scheme – no alternative state programs, no individuals or businesses that choose not to participate, no truly private market alternatives.
The debate boils down to one big question: Shall we govern ourselves, or let unelected bureaucrats rule us?
Behind this question are the many other specific ones about health care:
Should the federal government control America’s $2.5 trillion health sector, fully one sixth of our economy?
Should government bureaucrats decide what form of health coverage is “acceptable”?
Should these bureaucrats be given the legal authority to require all Americans to purchase government-designed health plans and levy penalties on those who don’t comply?
Should the federal government require the States to devote scarce resources to the creation of federally designed health exchanges that State lawmakers may feel inadequately address the unique needs of state residents?
Should the federal government expand the Medicaid program so dramatically that States face a Hobson’s choice – either shoulder billions in new fiscal commitments (on top of an already unsustainable budget mess) or withdraw from the program entirely?
What about employers who want to continue to provide their employees with health coverage but learn that federal bureaucrats deem the coverage they can afford to provide insufficiently generous?
And these are but the most obvious concerns raised by last year’s law.
But what comes next, you ask?
First, it is incumbent on the Majority leader of the Senate, Harry Reid (D-NV) to allow a vote on the floor of that chamber. A bipartisan majority in one half of Congress has just repealed the most ambitious expansion of the federal government in many decades following a major electoral reversal for his party. For Mr. Reid to prevent this vote from coming to the Senate floor would be to thumb his nose at the will of the American people. Senators must be allowed to vote on this question so that repeal legislation might go to the president for his consideration.
In the meantime, Heritage Distinguished Fellow Ernest Istook (who sat on the Appropriations Committee for 14 years) and Government Relations Director Brian Darling say that an incremental strategy is critical. To start the de facto repeal of Obamacare, lawmakers should focus on dismantling the key provisions that form the very foundation of the law’s architecture. This means, for example, going after the pillars of the law through a variety of means like de-funding its critical aspects, engaging in aggressive oversight of the consequences of the law and enacting legislative triggers to delay or block its implementation. All these approaches will contribute to Obamacare’s implosion.
While that important national debate is taking place, the House of Representatives can move to defund provisions of Obamacare through either a rescissions package or funding riders. Congress is not required to fund this law or the myriad of new programs that it spawned. Like every other federal program, the current Congress can adjust – or even zero out – the level of funding for the implementation of Obamacare. Special provisions in the health care law will complicate the process, but the propriety of de-funding is unquestionable. As noted by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), “Congress is not required to provide funds for every agency or purpose authorized by law.”
De-funding is a legitimate use of the power of the purse that the Founding Fathers wisely granted to Congress. It won’t be easy. Obamacare was designed to be the governmental equivalent of kudzu – growing everywhere. However, Obamacare is not a fait accompli, no matter what the Left is telling you.
After a clean repeal we can move on to debate what good ideas on health care can be adopted in the future, as Heritage health care expert Nina Owcharenko does in her report, “Repealing Obamacare and Getting Healthcare Right.”
The House of Representatives acted wisely last night. Now the debate opens again. It’s a national debate we need to have, and we need to have it now. Don’t listen to those who want to stifle this debate, or close this controversy. There’s nothing uncivil about standing up for your freedoms. This is no time for summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.
None of our work on Obamacare would be possible without the dedicated support of our 710,000 members from around the nation. Support us as we keep the momentum going for repeal.
Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D.
The Heritage Foundation