A debate is roiling conservatives and Republicans about responding to Obamacare. On the one hand, Republican senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky want to defund Obamacare via the Continuing Resolution required to keep the government open after Sept. 30. Others, most notably Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, believe President Obama's request for a national debt limit increase is the right time to defund Obamacare.
There are solid arguments on both sides of the debate, but two pernicious myths have been prominent in the discussion. These myths are largely the creation of Democrats and their cronies in the liberal Establishment press, but they are frequently repeated by opponents of the Cruz-Lee-Rand side, most notably by Speaker John Boehner in a conference call Wednesday with House Republicans.
The first myth is that Republicans must not defund Obamacare in the Continuing Resolution because that will force a government shutdown when Obama and Senate Democrats reject it. Such a shutdown would repeat the disaster that allegedly befell congressional Republicans when they went to the mat with President Clinton over excessive federal spending in 1995 and the federal government was shut down twice as a result. Most Americans supposedly opposed the shutdowns then and held Republicans responsible, as they would today.
Here's the unvarnished historical fact: It is debatable whether a majority of Americans opposed the 1995 shutdowns, but what is not debatable is how they voted in the 1996 election. They re-elected Clinton and they increased the Republican Senate majority by two seats. House Republicans lost a mere eight seats while retaining the majority. As the Heritage Foundation's Hans von Spakovsky noted Saturday in a Washington Examiner oped, the results marked the first time in 70 years that Republicans managed to retain congressional majorities in two successive elections. Maybe voters would punish the GOP in 2014 if the government shuts down in 2013, but it did not happen that way in 1996.
The second myth is that a Continuing Resolution can't defund Obamacare because so much of the program is supported by "mandatory spending." That description is routinely applied to entitlement spending, but from a constitutional perspective it is no more or less binding than any other congressional spending decision. The Constitution gives Congress the exclusive authority to determine what the government spends, what is bought and when. Congress can decide one day to spend $1 trillion on Obamacare, then the next day defund Obamacare by $1 trillion.
To defund Obamacare, the Continuing Resolution need only include a "legislative rider" that says: "Not withstanding any other provision of law, no funds shall be expended or otherwise obligated by any department or agency of the federal government for implementing, regulating or enforcing upon any public or private entity or activity any provision of the Affordable Care Act of 2010." Whether Congress should do so is debatable, but there is zero question that it can do it if it chooses to do so.