ISTOOK: Rooting out ‘Obamacare’ requires hard work

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Voters made one thing clear in November: They want “Obamacare” repealed. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

Monday’s court decision declared the law unconstitutional, but it may take months — even years — before the legal challenges to Obamacare are finally resolved. Meanwhile, the Obama administration insists it will continue full steam ahead to implement the law. Congress can — and should — take immediate action to assure no damage is done in the interim.

Until the entire law is reversed, at least parts of it can be addressed. The law was deliberately designed to make it hard to uproot, to send tendrils out that cannot be pulled up easily. Like the weeds in your lawn, no single piece can be pulled while the rest are forgotten.

But that doesn’t mean the task is impossible. And the good news is, the will exists to do this tough and dirty job. Because the House of Representatives has voted 245-189 for repeal, more members of Congress now have voted to end Obamacare than ever voted to create it. But so long as Sen. Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, blocks a Senate vote, the weeds must be pulled up one by one to prevent the damage the law does to our economy, our freedoms, our federal budget and to our health care.

The piecemeal approach is challenging. Reviewers at first counted 159 new federal entities created by the 2,700-page law. But then the Congressional Research Service concluded the actual number of new agencies, boards, etc., “is currently unknowable,” because so many of them are empowered to spawn additional entities, just as weeds grow by sending out runners and seeds.

The complexity also gives politicians a way to play games by repealing, undoing or defunding only some minor parts and then bragging as though they’ve fixed the problem. Little will be done unless fixes go to the heart of Obamacare, such as the individual mandate, the Medicaid expansion that pushes already-busted state budgets deeper into the red, and the sneaky clause that lets the Office of Personnel Management begin to create a government-run “public option.”

So when even President Obama says the law could stand some repair, you can be sure he means cosmetic changes and not any of these major parts.

Defunding Obamacare requires closing back-door funding tricks and following the money through a bureaucratic maze to shut it off. One major obstacle: Obamacare uses a series of gimmicks to bypass the normal appropriations process, which is the power of the purse that Congress can usually wield against out-of-control bureaucracies.

Even while the last Congress failed to approve spending bills for the rest of government, they provided tens of billions of dollars for Obamacare, slipped into obscure parts of the legislation. They tried to strip away the ability of the current Congress and future Congresses to control spending by actually appropriating billions of dollars to Obamacare not only for the current fiscal year but also for future fiscal years — sometimes as much as 10 years in advance.

This means the administration will be rushing to spend billions on Obamacare this year before court appeals are resolved and without asking any further approval from Congress to spend this money.

The Constitution requires appropriations before taxpayer money can be spent, but it’s usually done just one year at a time. Because Obamacare made advance appropriations for a multitude of future years, the new Congress cannot simply deny funding to Obamacare. They must strip away and rescind this year’s and future years’ guaranteed funding that was granted by last year’s Congress (before the voters threw out so many of them).

Just as the last Congress rushed to jam the new law through, so now the Obama administration will try to jam through its implementation before the courts or the new Congress can stop it.

It was bad enough when the lame-duck Congress tried to bend the country to its will; now even the dead-duck Congress is trying to run things from its political grave. Unless, of course, members of Congress summon the will to do the hard work that’s required. Homeowners work hard every year to weed their lawns; we should expect our officials to work just as hard to repair the damage from Obamacare.

Ernest Istook is a distinguished fellow at the Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org). Heritage is issuing a series of “how-to” papers on how to defund Obamacare, with analysis that ranges from a broad overview to itemized specifics.

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