President Obama's concession in the current budget negotiations may be that he will enforce his own health care law. Meanwhile, Republicans have shied away from trying to repeal a tax on big business because the party's base doesn't see it as a priority.
It's an odd time in Washington.
To the perpetual irritation of presidents, the Constitution vests the power to make laws solely in Congress. Like his predecessors, Obama bends laws and stretches executive power in order to seize some legislative power for himself.
Most egregiously, Obama has expanded, contracted, twisted, and amended his 2010 Affordable Care Act many times.
Obama in early 2012 unilaterally delayed the law's cuts to Medicare Advantage until after his reelection. To do this, he tapped into a fund Obamacare created for “demonstration projects” in expanding health coverage. After the fact, the Government Accountability Office exposed this ploy as a farce, concluding it is “unlikely that the demonstration will produce meaningful results.”
Obama's IRS announced in 2011 that it would grant tax credits to people buying insurance through the federal exchange although the law authorized tax credits only to those buying “through an Exchange established by the State.”
That same week Obama’s HHS announced that it would not be able to verify the income of exchange customers who claimed to be eligible for Obamacare’s tax credits.
Next, Obama's Office of Personnel Management reversed an earlier ruling and declared that Congress could subsidize the health insurance premiums of congressmen and congressional staffers, even though no law permits such an employer subsidy. In fact, Obamacare specifically knocked Congress off the Federal Employee Health Benefits plan and onto the exchanges.
All of these unilateral — and possibly illegal — amendments to Obamacare make ironic Obama's retort to GOP critics who would change the law. “It’s the law of the land,” he and Democrats claim, as if the laws of the land can’t be amended by Congress. In truth, Republicans, pointing to any of Obama’s revisions, could rightly scold him: “It’s the law of the land.”
Disregarding his own law, perversely, has strengthened Obama’s negotiating power. As of Tuesday afternoon, the Republican demand in the budget negotiations was that Obama enforce two aspects of his own law: ending employer subsidies for congressmen and verifying income before awarding tax credits to exchange customers.
In the context of funding the government, Obama has repeatedly said Republicans “don't get to demand ransom in exchange for doing their jobs.” But in current negotiations, his concession may be that he will enforce (some) of his own law.
Republicans’ behavior also should also elicit some wonder. First, it seems odd that they have made income verification their priority.
Fraud is a bad thing. It's not good government to have the IRS handing out subsidies without knowing if the recipients legally qualify. Overpayments are worse in time of deficits.
But how is it even a small victory in this shutdown fight over Obamacare to come back to voters and say: “We didn’t do anything to stop your insurer from canceling your plan, stop your boss from dropping you, legalize less expensive plans, or free you from the mandate to buy insurance — but we sure made it harder for you to get a tax credit to afford it!”
Still, blocking subsidy fraud and cutting compensation for Congress are bound to be politically popular, making it tough for Obama to stand firm in opposing these demands.
Republicans' other noteworthy move: dropping their demand to repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax. The tax is bad, drives up costs, and probably kills jobs. But most of the cost of the measure will probably come out of the profit margins of medical device makers — some of which are amazingly profitable.
Conservative members didn’t feel right going to the mat for this one fix to Obamacare. As a dialed-in National Review reporter put it: “Conservatives complained … that delaying the tax would be 'crony capitalism' and they can’t sell it to the Republican base as a viable Republican win.”
This is shift in the GOP: In politics the squeaky wheel gets the grease. For congressional Republicans, this has always meant that whoever has the best lobbyists gets their grievances redressed first. In the Tea Party era, however, it seems that K Street's fingerprints can make a provision -- even a tax cut -- politically unsavory.
So, here's your one-sentence guide to Washington today: Republicans are opposing big-business tax cuts and trying to enforce Obamacare.Timothy P. Carney, the Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Sunday and Wednesday on washingtonexaminer.com.