The Most Immediate Threat To Obamacare

In a column where the effort to appear “balanced” is a bit closer to real “balance” than has become customary for him, David Brooks examines the short-term future of the Affordable Care Act, apparently after consulting various “experts.” Here’s his bottom line:

[T]he clear majority, including some of the law’s opponents, believe that we’re probably in for a few years of shambolic messiness, during which time everybody will scramble and adjust, and eventually we will settle down to a new normal.

What nobody can predict is how health care chaos will interact with the political system. There’s a good chance that Republicans will be able to use unhappiness with what is already an unpopular law to win back the Senate in 2014. Controlling both houses of Congress, they will be in a good position to alter, though not repeal, the program.

There are two kinda important things Brooks leaves out here. The first is a very common issue with Obamacare critics: translating levels of “unhappiness” with the new system into a straightforward political opportunity for Republicans. As we have learned over and over again, though some of us have clearly forgotten, a sizable chunk of those “unhappy” with Obamacare are people who want a much stronger public role in the health care system–i.e., people not likely to vote Republican over it.

The second is the havoc that can be wreaked by congressional Republicans whether or not they succeed in retaking the Senate in 2014. Like any large piece of complex legislation, the Affordable Care Act had flaws (including one big flaw deliberately inserted into the legislation by reform opponents) that in the normal course of events would be fixed legislatively. That ain’t happening with a Republican Party determined to make the law fail, and controlling both the House and veto power in the Senate by the routine use of the filibuster.

That’s a more immediate problem than “shambolic messiness” or the possibility of a big Republican win in 2014.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.