The important economic implications of Obamacare, President Obama's costly national health care plan, are being debated in the court of public opinion. Yet the equally important political implications are only now beginning to rise to the surface.
While it's true many Democrats (and a few Republicans) have long supported health care reform, it was rarely seen as a political strategy. The rhetoric usually revolved around lighter-sounding terms such as "accessibility" and "affordability." Depending on state demographics and the political climate, these terms were wisely included in campaign literature and debates to show commitment to quality health care for all Americans. In reality, the status quo was maintained by both the elephant and the donkey.
That was then, and this is now.
Democrats were emboldened by the president's health care plan, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). When it was signed into law on March 23, 2010, the PPACA evolved into its current moniker, Obamacare, and the left's political strategy dramatically shifted from rhetoric to action.
Sure, the political language still included "accessibility" and "affordability." It also emphasized "protection" (of Americans, as well as Medicare and Medicaid) and "fairness" (to reduce inequalities in the system). Various demographic groups, including seniors, minorities, liberals and women, were initially targeted. Over time, the underlying political message was sold on a wider basis to all Americans.
The Democratic position is nonsense. Obamacare will reportedly cost taxpayers $1 trillion, and will surely be a financial burden for future generations. It will increase government influence over virtually every aspect of health care. Choice for consumers will be dramatically reduced. The extensive phase-in period between 2014 and 2020 will serve as a constant source of confusion. Businesses will be crushed under the weight of this 2,700-page document. An estimated 80,000 jobs will be lost, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Moreover, regardless of political posturing, Medicare and Medicaid won't be the same -- and obviously can't be the same due to the litany of new rules and regulations.
Republican opposition to Obamacare had some positive political effect. A Reuters-Ipsos poll in June 2012 showed 56 percent of Americans surveyed were against it. To be sure, there was an unsurprising political divide: 86 percent of Republicans opposed it, whereas only 25 percent of Democrats felt the same. That said, the general consensus was Obamacare wouldn't fix health care in an adequate fashion, and that real reform was necessary.
Unfortunately, that's not going to happen. Mr. Obama was elected to a second term, and Obamacare will become a reality. Meanwhile, there's a new chapter being written in the politics of Obamacare that could end up having worse implications for Americans -- and interestingly, for the GOP's future.
Politico's Jonathan Allen recently noted some 19 Republican governors in (mostly) red states have come up with a different strategy. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Texas' Rick Perry, Ohio's John Kasich and Wisconsin's Scott Walker, among others, "have decided it's better to have Obamacare forced on them than to legitimize it by setting up their own exchanges, even if that means empowering the federal government at the expense of the states." Maine Gov. Paul LePage's comments to Bloomberg, reprinted by Mr. Allen, were eye-opening: "I'm not lifting a finger. We're not going to get involved. We're going to let Mr. Obama do a federal exchange. It's his bill."
Thus, various Republican leaders will use the political tactic of blaming the White House for forcing this issue. They will maintain their hands are tied with respect to Obamacare. They will also appeal to voters to keep them in office to watch over this health care monster they're refusing to slay.
What's next? GOP leaders from red states on the verge of becoming blue states holding their tongues to protect their careers? Moderate Republicans using this non-exchange exchange to distinguish themselves from more vocal conservative Republicans and Tea Party supporters?
This is a terrible move. As someone who lives in a country with a universal health care system that has badly declined in recent decades, I can say with authority that maintaining radio silence about Obamacare is going to backfire. The economic cost of implementing it will be huge, but the economic and political costs of sitting back and doing nothing could be immense. This won't help the Republican Party, the country or the American people.
Hence, red- and blue-state Republicans must continue to oppose it vigorously and point out the costs to taxpayers and long-lasting economic damage at every turn. Once Obamacare is in place, it will be incredibly difficult to ever remove it. At that point, the GOP's political battle to protect health care will be effectively over.
Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a columnist with The Washington Times.