When observing the actions of political class Republicans it’s important to remember what makes them tick. It’s not that they are liberal or moderate; it’s that their ideology is power. When conservative policies will benefit them politically and assuage their donors and lobbyists, they will jump on board the constitutional bandwagon. But as soon as there is a schism between their puppet-masters on K Street on conservative policy, they are completely off the reservation. Nowhere is this more evident than with Obamacare.
While other issues such as corporate welfare, amnesty, and Common Core are blatantly embraced by the corporate interests, Obamacare is more complicated. On paper, big business opposes many parts of Obamacare. But that is the point. They oppose the parts of the bill that directly affect their bottom line (at least with the shortsighted focus on the near term), but have no problem with the rest of the bill that distorts the market and raises costs on individuals. Indeed, much of the insurance industry was in on Obamacare from day one.
Hence, that is why none of us are surprised that GOP leadership has quietly given up on Obamacare. This is not just about strategy, it’s about core beliefs. Look no further than the Chamber of Commerce’s official position that they desire to fix Obamacare.
Accordingly, this is why Republicans and even some Democrats have enthusiastically embraced repeal of the medical device tax. Undoubtedly, it is a pernicious job-killing tax, but it is unanimously opposed by the business community. Juxtapose that to repeal of the risk corridors (the insurance company bailout for those who participate in Obamacare but inevitably incur losses from the mandates), championed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), and you won’t find too many followers.
Today, we will witness the latest example of leadership’s tendentious treatment of big business in the Obamacare debate. The House will quietly vote on a bill sponsored by Democrat Rep. John Carney (D-DE) and Republican Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) (H.R. 4414), which would exempt all expatriate health insurance plans from Obamacare. Expatriate plans are robust high-end forms of insurance for executives, primarily in big corporations, working overseas and in need of global access to healthcare. The bill is co-sponsored by a random mix of moderate Republicans and Democrats.
Carney and Nunes sent a letter to their colleagues noting that these plans are offered by Cigna, Metlife, Aetna, and United Health. This is not surprising because Cigna provides health insurance to large companies with many top executives working overseas. Perforce, all of the special interests groups who oppose full repeal or defunding of Obamacare have swooped in on this bill. The American Benefits Council and the Chamber of Commerce quickly circled the wagons around this bill, which had not undergone any committee hearings or markups and was randomly passed under suspension.
While there is some debate among conservatives about partial repeal bills, even those conservatives who support a partial repeal strategy should only support game-changing bills that both bring relief to the consumer and help disrupt the viability of the entire law. For example, in the case of the 1099 tax-reporting provision, it benefited all businesses and alleviated them from an onerous burden. The 1099 provision required companies to report all vendors from which they purchased $600 worth of goods or services within a year on their annual tax report. Moreover, instead of bailing out Democrats from the political wrath of a deleterious provision, we extracted concessions from them by limiting the individual subsidies for purchasing insurance.
The expatriate reform, on the other hand, is a parsimonious tweak (yet full repeal for one special interest) that serves no purpose but ameliorating the law, making some Democrats look good, and playing into the insidious and selfish strategy of big business and the insurance companies. Moreover, Republicans have not attached any other concession to this bill like they did with the 1099 repeal.
In the case of Cigna, they spent million promoting Obamacare; now they are looking for a bailout specifically for their corporate clients. There’s no reason we should help them out. It’s no surprise that Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD), a conservative House member and lifelong physician, allegedly accused leadership of being in the pockets of big insurance companies.
The Wall Street Journal continues to lambast conservatives for opposing partial-repeal measures, but they are too shortsighted to see how these bills are geared towards bringing relief to Obamacare lobbyists, not consumers and taxpayers at large.
Those who think that the intra-party battle of 2014 is merely about strategy are not paying attention. Establishment Republicans have never stood for limited constitutional government and free markets except for when it overlaps with corporate interests. Don’t be fooled by the ubiquitous public opposition to Obamacare within the party. If conservatives fail to win this year’s primaries, a GOP majority will not be committed to repealing Obamacare.