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Republicans Won't "Refund Obamacare"

September 24, 2013

For days, Washington has been focused like a laser beam on the GOP effort to "defund Obamacare." Prodded by the grandstanding Senator Ted Cruz (R-Self), 228 of 229 House Republicans voted to shut down the federal government if funding for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act is not stripped from the continuing resolution (CR) needed to fund the federal government after October 1. Not to content to rest there, House Speaker John Boehner has promised to block next month's required debt ceiling increase and trigger a global economic meltdown unless Obamacare is delayed for a year.
But the GOP's dangerous--and unprecedented--brinksmanship isn't just doomed to fail. It also happens to be wildly hypocritical, too. (Senate Republican leaders are backing away from the Ted Cruz's kamikaze mission, one which can't really defund Obamacare since most of its outlays are mandatory spending beyond the reach of the CR.) As it turns out, the same House Republicans who just voted to stop spending on the Affordable Care Act repeatedly voted to keep the $1 trillion in revenue the ACA will generate over the next decade.

On Sunday, the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) called his Republicans to task for precisely that hoax:

[House Republicans] have to explain to the American people how they voted for a budget that includes all of the Medicare savings from ObamaCare, that includes the same level of revenue generated from ObamaCare and, in fact, would not even balance in 10 years, if not for the Affordable Care Act.

Van Hollen was actually giving the Republicans too much credit. Their budget, as we'll see below, doesn't balance in 10 years. But it does indeed count on all of the cost savings and new tax revenue that more than pay for the Affordable Care Act.
That's exactly what 95 percent of House and Senate Republicans voted to when they blessed Paul Ryan's budget in 2011, 2012 and 2013. While repealing Obamacare, slashing Medicaid funding by a third and leaving roughly 38 million more people uninsured, the Ryan budget still runs up trillions in new red ink thanks to its massive tax cut windfall for the wealthy. Paul Ryan's blueprint does not, as Republicans claim, balance in 10 year because it does not identify a single tax break it will close to fill the gaping hole left by almost $5 trillion in tax cuts. And yet, the Ryan plan still assumes every single dollar in revenue generated to fund the Affordable Care Act. The $716 billion in savings from Medicare providers, the capital gains and Medicare payroll tax surcharges for households earning over $250,000 a year and other new revenue raisers are all still in there. As Ezra Klein explained "Paul Ryan's love-hate relationship with Obamacare" in March:

Every Ryan budget since the passage of Obamacare has assumed the repeal of Obamacare. Kinda. Ryan's version of repeal means getting rid of all the parts that spend money to give people health insurance but keeping the tax increases and the Medicare cuts that pays for that health insurance, as without those policies, it is very, very difficult for Ryan to hit his deficit-reduction targets.

This issue first arose in January 2011, when the new Republican House majority asked the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) to "score" H.R. 2, the "Repeal the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act." Much to the dismay of Speaker John Boehner, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the CBO explained that repealing Obamacare would make the U.S. national debt worse. In July 2012 and again in May 2013, the CBO reached the same conclusion:

"Repealing the ACA would affect direct spending and revenues in ways resulting in a net increase in budget deficits of $109 billion over the 2013-2022 period."

Now, it's true that House Republicans have voted 41 times to repeal Obamacare and so add to the national debt. But the "defund Obamacare" crowd is now doing something much different by blocking whatever ACA spending they can while still pocketing all of the revenue it generates.
In the Obamacare Defunders defense, not all of their headliners voted for the Ryan budget every year. Kentucky Senator Rand Paul voted against it the last two years, in large part because he was pushing an even more draconian package of spending cuts. In 2013, neither Mike Lee (R-UT) nor freshman Texas Senator Ted Cruz supported it, either. But in 2011 and 2012, Ryan's blueprint got the backing of Lee and Jim Demint, along with 97 and 95 percent of Congressional Republicans, respectively. And that backing included John Boehner, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor.
So as the GOP's scorched-earth campaign to "defund Obamacare" continues, remember that any notion to "refund Obamacare" won't be part of it.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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