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Ornstein calls GOP attempts to ‘sabotage’ Obamacare ‘contemptible and unprecedented’

Writing for National Journal, political scientist (and native Minnesotan) Norm Ornstein tries to provide some philosophical and historical perspective to the ongoing effort by congressional Republicans to sabotage the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and concludes that the strategy is beyond reasonable or respectable conduct for a loyal opposition. An excerpt:

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable — unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better — not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation — which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil — is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.

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Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/26/2013 - 09:23 am.

    Ornstein must be

    a flaming Liberal 😉

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/26/2013 - 09:29 am.

    What is human suffering when balanced against the purity of ideology ?

    Let’s see–September 2009 to July 2013.

    Almost 4 years from the introduction of the bill to today.

    And absolutely no credible alternative in the pipeline from the conservatives.

    It can truly be said that they do not give a damn about the uninsured and out-of-control healthcare costs.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/26/2013 - 01:09 pm.

      Sure they do

      The sooner the poor get sick and die, the less likely they are to vote (and we all know who they vote for).

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 07/26/2013 - 11:47 am.

    It’s Becoming Increasingly Clear on EVERY Front

    That our “conservative” Republican friends are not dealing well with the reality that their primary constituency, white, wealthy, upper class, Southern folk, are soon going to be in the minority of this nation.

    Their denial of this reality, and their determination to “rage, rage against the dying of the light [of their power],” even as that power diminishes to the point of non-existence, is demonstrating itself as a death wish.

    If they keep this up, the end result will be a complete loss, not only of power, but of any influence they ever hoped to have over the American public and over public policy.

    When the political chaos theory switch of public opinion flips away from them, even in their former strongholds, a flip which they, themselves, are now driving us toward, the result will be breathtakingly sudden, and they’ll find, seemingly overnight, that anyone with an “R” next to their name can no longer get elected to anything.

    Suddenly the political battles will be between the moderate-liberals and the radical-liberals, with the “Republicans” and “conservatives” being ignored (even in “Conservative” Christianity) to the point that the main stream media which has been owned by our nation’s wealthiest “conservative” moguls for the past few decades will either have to shift its perspective or watch the public move, en masse, to seeking information on the Internet and internet video channels to the complete exclusion of old fashioned TV news.

    This could all have been forestalled, and they could have continued to influence policy and contribute ideas (if, indeed, they had any) if they had not made themselves and each other so dysfunctional as to be unable to allow to enter their awareness the possibility that ideas in which they did not already “truly believe” might have merit sufficient to make them worthy of consideration.

    But alas, I fear when the our “conservative” “Republican” friends continue to cling to their “my way or the highway” attitude, all the while believing, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the public will eventually come back to their fold, they only continue to make it more inevitable that the only ones taking that “highway” will be themselves.

  4. Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/26/2013 - 03:15 pm.

    The right-wingers’ #1 goal of making Obama…

    …a one-term president failed miserably. (Remember Bachmann shouting it out every chance she got ? Mitch McConnell admitting they had no other agenda ?)

    So now they are really hopping mad and are out to destroy the ACA if possible.

    If this fails, they will try to tie Obama’s shoelaces together.

    I have never seen a bunch of politians so desperate to draw attention away from their own failure.

  5. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/27/2013 - 07:40 am.

    Red Meat for Libs

    Sorry, this is largely BS. Just about everything in the first paragraph also describes how Obama and congressional Dems are trying to make sequestration harder on people. This has only gathered them praise from libs.
    Obamacare is simply a terribly designed system and should be dismantled. Even one of it’s main designers, Sen Baucus, called it a ‘trainwreck’. Even in places that are hugely sympathetic to the President and Dems, like California, have had huge trouble putting it in place. The Obama administration has had to delay parts of it because they can’t make the technical stuff work. Several unions, major allies to Dems, have tried to get out from under it. It’s simply bad law.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/27/2013 - 09:43 am.

      You’re right

      ACA would be a much better and simpler system if it were simply universal medical care, rather than a gift to the insurance companies. However, the results from NY seem to show that it can drastically cut medical costs while maintaining services.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/27/2013 - 01:04 pm.

        New York is something of a special case. Due to previous attempts to fix their healthcare set up, they’ve already gone through the ‘death spiral’ part where people (especially young) abuse the system by not paying until they’re sick. Obamacare will bring them back a step from that and therefore make it better. That doesn’t mean it will be a better thing for the country as a whole.
        I’ll agree that it would have been better to try and set up a universal system rather than try to glom this onto the insurance set up (though I wouldn’t have supported that either). But if the true purpose behind the law was simply to help those who have trouble getting/affording insurance, there were easier ways. Ways that wouldn’t distort the market even more.
        One of the simplest would have been to try and sever the job/insurance link by either expanding the tax credit or eliminating it. Another thing would be to make it easier for insurance companies to offer catastrophic coverage only instead of the ‘cover everything’ approach that we use now. We could even set up a system where there was universal coverage *after* 10-15% of income had been spent. Any and all of those could have been used and still can.
        We can do better, much better, than Obamacare.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/27/2013 - 05:42 pm.

          We can do better…

          Obviously, for most of the industrialized world it is better, and cheaper, with far more coverage for all.

          But hey, where are the ideas and legislation for the alternatives.

          Nada, zip, nothing….

          And this has been an issue since the Clinton era.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/28/2013 - 09:39 am.

          Which of your proposals

          would eliminate the insurance companies ‘pre-existing condition’ loophole (which the ACA does)?
          Yes we could do better, but doing nothing (the Republican alternative) is a lot worse.
          I suspect that in a few years President Clinton or Klubuchar will complete the job.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/29/2013 - 09:15 am.

      “Democrats do it, too!”

      Well, no. Sequestration calls for across-the-board cuts. Deciding on which cuts would be less hard gets the White House and Congress involved in picking favorites. The cuts should be painful: This is the government you people voted for, now you can deal with it. Easing the pain is just political cowardice.

      I’m not crazy about Obamacare, but it can’t be “dismantled.” The popular parts of it depend on the universal mandate. Without the mandate, the “nice” parts are unworkable. Do the Republicans have a better idea? Let them propose it (and no, going back to the way things were isn’t a better idea).

    • Submitted by Lance Groth on 07/29/2013 - 04:25 pm.

      Why no alternative?

      1) It is originally a Republican plan, and first implemented by a Republican governor.

      2) It’s not surprising that the law is far from perfect, considering that the repubs squandered their opportunity to have input into the law by throwing tantrums, doing everything they could to obstruct, undercut and/or block the law, and making their one and only objective (according to Mitch McConnell) the defeat of Obama after one term.

      3) Why have the repubs offered no alternative of their own? Not one. Nada. Just “Repeal, and trust us to do something later.”

      The House is completely dysfunctional, and they abrogate their responsibility to do right by the American people – to govern – by their single-minded obsession to defeat anything and everything that has Obama’s name attached to it, regardless of how it might benefit average Americans. Hatred is an ugly thing.

      It’s pathetic, and might even be amusing, were it not for the damage they do to the country they profess to love.

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/30/2013 - 09:44 am.


    Funny, when I Google ‘Republican alternatives to Obamacare’ I get page after page discussing, well, Republican proposals and alternatives to Obamacare. This should be full knowledge but knowing it would get in the way of this prevailing narrative inside the lib mind that the GOP is contemptible and not worth working with.
    Yes, we should get rid of Obamacare. It screws up far too much for what it helps. If the object is to help those with pre-existing conditions, then focus on that. Sever the employer tax break and take insurance away from your job. Then people won’t face the gap between jobs. Set up a safety net for those who really do face overwhelming costs. This is not difficult stuff. (I wonder if doesn’t give enough opportunity for the Obama administration to shake down companies though.)
    Are the benefits of Obamacare worth the costs? Not just the actual costs which predictably have risen since it passed, but the other costs. Obamacare has been a drag on job creation and is one of the reasons why new jobs are predominately part time.
    It’s been a trainwreck.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 07/31/2013 - 10:29 am.

      These are assertions

      or maybe predictions.
      Since most of the ACA hasn’t gone into effect yet, we can’t say what the economic effect will be.
      As far as Republican proposals are concerned, please provide a link to one that doesn’t cut health care spending by reducing access to health care, or cut public funding for Medicare, which will have the same effect.

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/02/2013 - 08:17 am.


        I love that upthread you simply agreed that Republicans are trying to kill off the poor but for me to suggest that Obamacare is hampering job growth requires proof. Very nice.
        Of course I can’t prove beyond a doubt that companies are looking at keeping employees at part time level simply because they don’t want to be hit by large penalties but that’s not a difficult leap of logic to make. Especially when numerous employers have suggested that this is going on. Here is a recent one from White Castle:
        The law has told companies that they could be on the hook for unknown, but large and growing health care costs for each full time employee that they have. Companies have seen this as an incentive to pare down on full time employees. Simple and utterly forseeable.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/02/2013 - 09:56 am.

          When Republicans cut services

          such as Medicaid which DO prolong the lives of people who could otherwise not afford medical care that is an already demonstrated relationship.
          And the corporate shift to contract and part time workers who do not receive benefits has already started.
          Your last paragraph is a hypothetical. Since the ACA has not completely gone into effect yet, we cannot be sure what its ultimate effects on healthcare coverage and costs will be; its (Republican) predecessor in Massachusetts seems to be working well.
          Your slider link is also a hypothetical. White Castle has not yet made any changes; it is woofing about what it -might- do, partly to cover its rear when it does it.
          Corporations profit from hiring part time labor even without the ACA; that’s why real wages have been dropping for several years now while corporate profits have been increasing. And that’s not hypothetical.

          Finally, while individual corporations may profit by ducking health care costs for their workers, the long range costs are simply shifted to society as a whole through lost work days, lower productivity, ER costs when the lack of preventive care results in serious problems that would have been avoidable.

  7. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/30/2013 - 09:50 am.

    Hope and Change

    Five years ago there was general outrage on the left from the signing statements of W Bush. Now we have some cynical idea that if the President deems Congress to be dysfunctional and not pass the legislation he wants, then he can simply use executive orders to do what he wants. I’m curious when you folks decided that ‘Hope and Change’ was nothing more than a slogan. Was it before the 2008 election or sometime after?
    And I hope you realize that if you don’t oppose it now, then you have no leg to stand on if/when the next Republican President uses the same tactics.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/02/2013 - 11:14 am.

      Easy to See the Flaw

      The flaw in your comment is that you assume that there is no difference between executive orders (actions taken that are within the purview of the President) and signing statements (usually, but not always, “I don’t intend to enforce this law I’ve just signed.”). Go back, and see if you can tell the difference.

      Incidentally, why do you assume that “you folks” are happy with anything and everything President Obama does? I know Republicans are not allowed to dissent (except for years later, when they can claim they “really were against” things like GW Bush’s economics), but why do you project that onto anyone else?

      • Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/04/2013 - 09:11 am.

        Executive Orders

        RB, where in the law does the President have the authority to roll back provisions of Obamacare? The deadlines are in the law. Is there some kind of clause in there that lets him move things around according to his own judgment? Or is he just winging it? His explanation that he can simply do things when Congress is too dysfunctional to do it fails on multiple levels. It completely and totally ignores important checks and balances.
        And I assume that you folks are fine with this because I hear cheerleading from libs and requests that the President do more and more of this. A couple of weeks ago Rep Ellison was asking the President to raise minimum wage by executive order. That’s always been done by the legislature before and yet he was wholly unbothered by this.
        The idea that Republicans are unable to dissent is more of this caricature of the right that the left would rather deal with than actually grapple with real people, I guess. A shame. For all the praise that libs give themselves on intellectual curiosity, this seems to be a real blind spot.
        It is, of course, easier to go along with the President when he’s in your own party. There were things that, in retropsect, I wish I’d opposed when W Bush was in office. I’ve learned a lot about the limits of power projection in foreign countries and how relentless the surveillance state can be. These are things that libs seemed to understand back then but now they’re largely quiet on it. I think needs to change.

  8. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 08/01/2013 - 12:15 pm.


    The Republicans don’t like ACA because they think it went too far. Democrats don’t like it because it didn’t go far enough. The only thing that makes any sense is universal single payer health care coupled with compensation reform. Anything else is just spitting in the wind.

    ACA is the best we could do considering Republicans fought even this mediocre measure tooth and nail. Can you imagine what kind of a meltdown we would have if Obama had pushed for single payer? The Republicans’ heads would spin backwards and they’d spit split pea soup! Heck, they already do!

    There seems to be this perception among our more conservative friends that the marketplace is the solution to all that ails us (pardon the pun). Corporation deserve every last tax break we can give them. Regulations must be slashed in order for them to remain competitive and worker safety and environmental concerns be damned. And the poor are looked down upon with disdain as being lazy and uneducated. At the same time they’re vilifying the government they’re clamoring to lead it so they can dismantle protections and toss lucrative contracts to their friends.

    It’s so pathetic and transparent that a third grader could point out their intellectual dishonesty.

  9. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/04/2013 - 09:43 am.

    A final word from


  10. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/06/2013 - 01:34 pm.

    Listen to the Companies

    Paul, if you really believe that Republicans are trying to kill the elderly because of shifts in social spending, I don’t know that there is much benefit in trying to talk with you. Your vision of your ideological opponents is evidently so poisoned, that I don’t know that talking will do any good.
    I’m not saying that without Obamacare there would be no part time jobs, nor am I saying that we’d be in an employment Eden without it. I am saying that it has depressed overall job creation and has encouraged employers to split otherwise full time work into part time. Why would they do that? Because of the perverse incentives put into Obamacare. Why would I think that they’re doing this? Because the companies THEMSELVES are talking about it.
    If Acme Co talks about taking an action and publicly says that they’re considering it because of a law that’s in place, every reasonable person would say that there is a connection between that law and that action. Saying that there is no connection because they haven’t done it yet is at best sophistry and at worst blind partisan foolishness.

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