Wrangling on health care law damages legislative agendas

December 11, 2013 By    

What a difference a month makes. Or does it?

In September, Americans watched anxiously to see if Congress would actually close the federal government and default on our debt. When the government closed in October, Democrats railed against the Republicans in the House of Representatives who shut down the government and risked ruining our credit. Republicans’ poll numbers plummeted as they were blamed for the first federal government closure in 17 years. For Democrats, the thought of reclaiming the House in the 2014 mid-term elections seemed a real possibility – maybe even a likelihood.

But in November, with the government up and running, the failure of the website at the heart of President Barack Obama’s signature health care initiative and the cancellation of millions of health insurance policies, the tables turned.

The website debacle of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the insurance cancellations left the administration looking incompetent and untrustworthy. People felt the president violated his pledge that if people like their health care plans they could keep them. The result was a tanking of both the president’s and congressional Democrats’ poll numbers.

Republicans, who railed against “Obamacare” well before and after its passage in 2010, now talked of taking back the Senate. The scorched-earth opposition by Republicans against the ACA along with the website debacle and policy cancellations appears to have torpedoed the president’s second-term legislative agenda for the year. Much of this agenda is related to energy, the environment and climate change.

However, House Republican leaders’ ongoing effort to oppose the ACA at any cost is hurting their own legislative agenda.

Glimmers of hope for bipartisan cooperation on immigration reform have dissolved. The House Republicans were unable to pass spending bills at low levels set by their leadership. The House-Senate Farm Bill conference committee appears unable to resolve its differences. A bipartisan budget agreement between House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray, D-Wash., by mid-December looked slim; if no agreement is reached, across-the-board mandatory sequestration cuts in federal discretionary spending will begin in mid-January.

House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., had promised to push a tax reform bill through his committee this year. Like many other issues, it has been pushed down the road.

Energy policy has taken a back seat, too. Smaller energy-related bills, related to hydraulic fracturing and permitting, for example, are introduced by Republicans with little chance of passing the Democratic Senate or clearing the president’s veto.

This month, only eight legislative days are scheduled in the House before Christmas. Little is expected to happen in Congress. A government funding fight looms in January. A vote on raising the debt ceiling will soon follow. The relentless opposition of Republicans to the ACA continues to poison any hopes of bipartisanship on these or the remaining issues in Congress.

In the next 12 months, given the current political dynamics, it will be difficult for Democrats to demonstrate to voters why they should win back control of the House. Republicans are counting on this and believe their ongoing drumbeat against the president’s health care law is productive. However, even if they were able to repeal the law, what do they have to offer to improve health care for Americans?

If Republicans can’t repeal laws they oppose, or work with Democrats to gain bipartisan support and legislate their own solutions to our country’s problems, what record will they have to run on in 2014? Do they deserve to keep the House if all they have to offer is obstruction and not solutions?

For voters, it’s no wonder Congress is at its lowest rating in history.

Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with NPGA. She remains involved in national politics and can be reached at lisabontempo@msn.com.

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About the Author:

Kevin Yanik was a senior editor at LP Gas Magazine.

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