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None dare call it sabotage

University of Southern California medical students carry a mock coffin in a 2012 protest to call attention to Americans who die because they lack sufficient health care coverage.
University of Southern California medical students carry a mock coffin in a 2012 protest to call attention to Americans who die because they lack sufficient health care coverage.Associated Press

Reuters reports this morning, in a matter-of-fact sort of way, that when it comes to implementation of federal health care law, Republicans and their allies "are mobilizing ... to dissuade uninsured Americans from obtaining health coverage."

I hope folks will pause to let that sentence sink in for a moment. Unlike every other industrialized democracy on the planet, the United States -- easily the wealthiest nation on earth -- tolerates a significant chunk of its population to go without basic health care coverage. These Americans and their families can't afford to see a doctor and are one serious illness from financial ruin.

After nearly a century of politicians talking about the problem, President Obama actually signed the Affordable Care Act into law three years ago, giving working families a level of health-care security they've never had before, and throwing a life preserver to the uninsured. Now, Republicans aren't just actively trying to sabotage the law, they're telling struggling Americans it's better to drown than accept the life preserver.

Writing in National Journal overnight, Norm Ornstein accurately describes the GOP efforts as "contemptible" and "spinning out of control."

It is important to emphasize that this set of moves is simply unprecedented.... For three years, Republicans in the Senate refused to confirm anybody to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the post that McClellan had held in 2003-04 -- in order to damage the possibility of a smooth rollout of the health reform plan. Guerrilla efforts to cut off funding, dozens of votes to repeal, abusive comments by leaders, attempts to discourage states from participating in Medicaid expansion or crafting exchanges, threatening letters to associations that might publicize the availability of insurance on exchanges, and now a new set of threats -- to have a government shutdown, or to refuse to raise the debt ceiling, unless the president agrees to stop all funding for implementation of the plan. [...]

What is going on now to sabotage Obamacare is not treasonous -- just sharply beneath any reasonable standards of elected officials with the fiduciary responsibility of governing.

For the unhinged right, there's apparent confusion over these criticisms. "We hate the health-care reform law," they argue, "so it's hardly outrageous for us to try to stand in its way."

This might help Republicans live with themselves, but it's a lousy argument.

More from Ornstein:

When a law is enacted, representatives who opposed it have some choices (which are not mutually exclusive). They can try to repeal it, which is perfectly acceptable -- unless it becomes an effort at grandstanding so overdone that it detracts from other basic responsibilities of governing. They can try to amend it to make it work better -- not just perfectly acceptable but desirable, if the goal is to improve a cumbersome law to work better for the betterment of the society and its people. They can strive to make sure that the law does the most for Americans it is intended to serve, including their own constituents, while doing the least damage to the society and the economy. Or they can step aside and leave the burden of implementation to those who supported the law and got it enacted in the first place.

But to do everything possible to undercut and destroy its implementation -- which in this case means finding ways to deny coverage to many who lack any health insurance; to keep millions who might be able to get better and cheaper coverage in the dark about their new options; to create disruption for the health providers who are trying to implement the law, including insurers, hospitals, and physicians; to threaten the even greater disruption via a government shutdown or breach of the debt limit in order to blackmail the president into abandoning the law; and to hope to benefit politically from all the resulting turmoil -- is simply unacceptable, even contemptible.

It's worth emphasizing that Ornstein isn't some liberal firebrand. When folks like, say, me write about Republican efforts to sabotage federal health care law, hoping to make millions suffer out of partisan spite, it's largely expected. Ornstein, however, is a celebrated and respected figure of the Washington establishment, an independent political scientist, and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

In other words, when he writes columns like these, even the laziest both-sides-are-always-to-blame-for-everything Beltway talking head should take note.

And finally, let's also not forget that the sabotage-governing strategy is not the radical vision of the fringe; it's the official position of the elected Republican leadership in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate. No further proof of the radicalization of GOP politics in the Obama era should be necessary.

A variety of adjectives come to mind to describe Republican efforts on this issue, but as this is a family blog, "contemptible" is as good a word as any.