It’s hardly news anymore when the House of Representatives, controlled by a Republican majority, votes to put an end to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. Obamacare. But Friday’s vote was different; it takes the operation of the federal government hostage unless funding for the implementation of the health-care law is revoked.
Because Congress is never able to pass a budget in a timely fashion (if at all), the funding of government operations depends on the periodic passage of continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep federal agencies running. H.J. Res. 59, the legislation passed in the House Friday 230-189, is a CR that includes a measure to defund the health-care law.
The ACA is expected to provide health insurance to 32 million uninsured Americans and strengthens coverage for those who already have health-care plans.
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But the Senate is controlled by Democrats, so a measure to defund the ACA will never pass in that body, meaning that House Republicans, effectively controlled by Tea Party extremists, have just brought the nation ever closer to the brink of a government shutdown.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) was not keen to bring Friday’s vote to the floor. Memories of the 1995 government shutdown forced by Republicans under then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) loom large, memories of an electorate so angry over the shutdown that the Republicans lost eight seats in the 1996 congressional elections and Bill Clinton, the Democratic president, won re-election.
The Tea Party crowd in Congress, however, seems confident of its invincibility—or, just as likely, is so beholden to the forces intent on derailing President Barack Obama’s health-care plan that its members can consider no alternative. So on Wednesday, Boehner acceded to the demands of his party’s most far-right wing.
The driving force behind coupling the CR to the destruction of the health-care law is 2016 presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who keynoted the August conference sponsored by the Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) with a call to arms against Obamacare. AFPF and its sibling organization, known as Americans for Prosperity, were founded by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who have pumped millions into the organization of the Tea Party movement, and organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the anti-Obamacare Center to Protect Patient Rights.
Americans for Prosperity spent an estimated $66 million on so-called issue ads during the 2012 election cycle, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, at least $33 million of that targeting Obama’s re-election campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The group was one of two powerful organizing entities arrayed against the passage of the ACA (the other was FreedomWorks, also founded with Koch money), and it has led the fight to repeal the law practically from the moment it was passed.
For the Kochs and their allies, Obamacare is a particular bugaboo. If it succeeds and people like it, that could spell an upturn in the electoral fortunes of Democrats. That’s why Generation Opportunity, a group that received $5 million last year from Freedom Partners, the Koch-linked dark money group, was created to try to convince college students not to purchase health insurance (as the Obamacare law requires the uninsured to do). Earlier this week, a particularly creepy Generation Opportunity video ad targeting college women hit the internet, featuring the image of a young woman on a gynecologist’s table, feet in stirrups, terrorized by a monstrous Uncle Sam standing between her legs, wielding a device used when collecting a pap test.
That ad, and Cruz’s crusade, are all of a Koch-driven piece.
Next week, the House bill will arrive in the Senate, where Cruz’s allies in the lower chamber will suffer a ringing defeat when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) strikes the defunding measure from the CR, passes it through the Senate, and sends it back to the House, where the Republican majority may fail to pass it in time to meet the October 1 deadline for funding the government.
That could be a big loser for the Republicans in the 2014 congressional elections. But for Cruz, any way it turns out could be a win of sorts. He’ll be positioned well in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries, which are driven by a right-wing electorate that famously loathes the president, and anything that bears his name. Should Cruz win that nomination, he’ll have ingratiated himself with the people who spend tens of millions of dollars each cycle on political advertising.
And if he loses that presidential nomination? He’s not up again for reelection to his Senate seat until 2018. Plenty of time to recover.