Sunday, July 25, 2010

Panic Rising

TPM writer Brian Beutler begins to play up the idea that, if Republicans do take over the house, they really could kill (or at least cripple) Obamacare:

But if they [Republicans] do retake the House, even by a slim margin, they could still make a great deal of mischief, effectively sentencing Obama's history-making accomplishment to death by 1000 cuts...

Pence cited the "power of the purse" -- Congress' prerogative to appropriate funds to federal agencies -- as a key tool at the Republicans' disposal if they win back the House. That's not just bluster.

"The most serious, yet realistic, possibility is precisely the one that you're suggesting: what the Republicans can do through appropriations bills," says Paul van de Water, a health care expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

In short, implementing the health care law costs money. "Some money was provided in the health reform bill itself, but not by any means all the administrative funding that will be needed," van de Water said. "If HHS and Treasury don't get appropriations they need to run the law well, that could be a real problem. It's not sexy but it's serious."

This can work one of few ways. House Republicans, in negotiations with the Senate, could demand appropriation levels beneath what's necessary to effectively implement the law. If the two chambers reach an agreement -- even an agreement that leaves the health care law cash strapped -- Obama would be hard pressed to issue a veto. "It's hard for the president to veto a bill because it doesn't provide enough money."

Part of this story may be an attempt to rally the "progressive" troops by emphasizing that Obama's signature legislation may be in danger.

But another aspect of this story reflects upon broader left-right narratives. Members of the right have been making this argument for a long time: that Republicans can seriously damage Obamacare even if they can't immediately have a total repeal of it. Many on the left took to ridiculing the idea of repeal and dismissing any other Republican options about changing or challenging Obamacare, which was now supposedly a new immutable pillar in the American public square.

Beutler's article may be a sign of lefty anxiety that the fate of Obamacare isn't so secure after all.

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