Gail Collins | GOP declares war on Obamacare

September 21, 2013 

The war against Obamacare: All the rationality of a Justin Bieber fan riot, and all the restraint of “Saw VI.”

On Wednesday, leaders of the House of Representatives announced their plans for a 42nd and 43rd vote to thwart the new health care reform law. If they don’t get their way, they’re threatening to defund the government and crack the debt ceiling.

“The law is a train wreck,” Speaker John Boehner said. The majority leader, Eric Cantor, said someone had to protect middle-class families from “its horrific effects.”

The arrival of Obamacare is worse than an invasion of giant zombies swinging nuclear-tipped crocodiles! Yet it lives! If only we lived in a country where citizens had the power to turn things around by voting lawmakers out of office. Like Uruguay or Latvia.

Seriously, people, why do you think the Republicans have gone so completely lunatic when it comes to this issue? Why do they behave as if, once the health law begins to roll out, it will be cemented in place like an amendment to the Constitution?

True, it would be a pain to repeal the whole thing if it doesn’t work out. But not a pain sufficient to wreak havoc on the global economy like, say, refusing to raise the debt ceiling.

Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, has been leading the push to shut down the government unless Congress repeals Obamacare. But have you ever heard him vow that if Congress doesn’t repeal Obamacare there will be … elections and then a new Congress that will repeal Obamacare?

Actually, Cruz has an answer for this.

Once the law goes into effect, he told the website The Daily Caller, the public will be overwhelmed by its sugary sweetness — “hooked on the subsidies.” It’s the duty of Congress to take it back before people can taste it, just the way New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to whisk away high-calorie Big Gulps.

So, the message is clear. The new health care law is going to be terrible, wreaking havoc on American families, ruining their lives. And they are going to love it so much they will never have the self-control necessary to give it up.

So the war goes on.

No issue is too big to ignore in the name of Obamacare repeal. None is too small. None is too unrelated. In the Senate, the latest victim was a popular, useful bill on energy efficiency, whose happy march toward passage came screeching to a halt when a handful of Republicans tried to make it a vehicle for votes on you-know-what.

“This will be the most, the worst …” sputtered Harry Reid, grasping for adjectives before settling on “the least productive Senate in the history of the country.”

“Least productive” was fairer than “worst.” After all, there was that session when somebody beat Sen. Charles Sumner half to death with a walking stick.

Anyway, things are ridiculously awful.

The energy-efficiency bill is the legislative version of a fluffy puppy. It was co-sponsored by Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, of New Hampshire, and Republican Rob Portman, of Ohio. It involves helping manufacturers save money on energy use, and creating new model building codes, making plans and cooperating and studying. Portman and Shaheen have been working on it for three years.

“Energy efficiency is something everyone can agree to,” Shaheen said in a phone interview.

Well, possibly not everybody. It’s hard to predict how the bill would fare in the House, where some people still haven’t gotten over the Bush administration’s decision to phase out incandescent light bulbs.

But there were at least some signs of hope.

And things were going great in the Senate. The bill was approved 19-3 in committee. When it came up for debate on the floor, nobody even attempted to offer a parliamentary motion to hold up all progress indefinitely and then require 60 votes to move forward.

“Then,” Shaheen said sadly, “Sen. Vitter objected.”

David Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, demanded a vote on his amendment to eliminate any health care subsidies for Congress. He was followed by the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, waiving a proposal to postpone an entire piece of the law.

Reid refused to allow indefinite voting on Obamacare during the energy-efficiency bill debate. The fluffy puppy was caged in the basement.

You do not want to know all the details of Vitter’s motion. The original health care legislation stripped members of Congress and their staff of their traditional insurance coverage. Nobody would care if the members voted to cover themselves through policies available only on Nigerian Internet sites.

But the staff is another matter.

If the amendment passes, people like congressional clerical workers would be virtually the only Americans offered every possible disadvantage and none of the advantages of health care reform.

“It’s to get them to recognize the pain that America’s about to feel,”Wyoming Sen. Mike Enzi said.

Followed, of course, by delicious, addictive joy.

Gail Collins is a New York Times columnist.

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