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GOP Effort to Defund Healthcare Reform Is Just a Political Stunt

Well, the congressional Jacobins have finally had their way: By a partisan vote of 240-185, the House passed an amendment to the FY 2011 continuing budget resolution that would cut off all funding for the healthcare reform legislation passed last year.

The adoption of this amendment, introduced by Rep. Denny Rehberg (R.-Mont.), could prevent the continuing resolution from being approved in the Senate and could lead to a government shutdown. But I don't think that's the Republicans' intent. They simply want to appease their base -- something that the Democrats undoubtedly recognize, as well. So the Dems shouldn't give an inch to their politically motivated opponents.

How defunding would, uh, "work"
Nevertheless, it's worth considering what Rehberg's amendment would actually do. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, the measure would bar the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Labor from enforcing currently effective provisions of the Affordable Care Act that:

  • Allow young adults to stay on their parents' insurance plans until they turn 26
  • Require insurers to provide preventive care for free
  • Prohibit insurers from denying coverage to children with pre-existing conditions
  • Ban lifetime limits on coverage and the cutting off of benefits when insured people get sick
In addition, the amendment would cut off funding for:
  • Experiments and demonstration projects design to slow cost growth. These include Medicare incentives for accountable care organizations and a new initiative to improve the coordination of Medicare and Medicaid for the "dual eligibles" who are covered under both programs.
  • Efforts to combat fraud and abuse in government health programs
  • Improvements in Medicare's preventive care benefits
  • Gradually closing the "doughnut" hole in the Medicare prescription drug benefit
  • Setting up health insurance exchanges and expanding Medicaid -- both scheduled to take effect in 2014.
When you look at the potential effects of Rehberg's amendment, it's sort of surprising that he would put his name on it. After all, the majority of the public opposes defunding of the Affordable Care Act -- even if they disapprove of portions of it. But Rehberg is seeking to unseat Sen. Jon Tester in the next election, and Republican primary voters tend to be more conservative than GOP voters as a whole. So it's good politics to try to overturn healthcare reform.

House Republican leaders see it the same way. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor promised last week that the continuing resolution to fund the government for the rest of 2011 would include language defunding the Affordable Care Act. If you can believe it, Tea Partiers and other far-right party members have actually criticized the leadership for not including that in the original bill. But apparently that was a political calculation to force Democrats, once again, to go on the record in defense of healthcare reform.

What the Republicans seem to understand very well is the art of politics. What they don't understand is how to make a constructive contribution to the debate over the future of healthcare in this country.

Image supplied courtesy of Wikipedia.
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