Milbank: Obamacare obsession hampers GOP

By Dana Milbank, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 

By most of the usual measures, President Obama has no business being re-elected. Here’s why he might be anyway.

On Wednesday, as Senate Democratic leaders were scrambling to find a way to enact part of Obama’s jobs bill, a dozen Republican lawmakers assembled outside the Capitol to complain about ... health care reform. “Every day I get up, I do at least something to fight Obamacare,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) announced to the cameras. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) proclaimed that the year-and-a-half-old law meant the “socialization of medicine.” Maybe so, gentlemen, but don’t you have something better to do with your time?

The president’s support is mired in the low 40s in opinion polls, and three-quarters of Americans think the country is on the wrong track — an obvious opportunity for the opposition party. But rather than exploit Obama’s vulnerability on the economy, the Tea Party faithful are stuck in 2010, demanding repeal of the health care law. That has allowed Obama, despite his own belated focus on unemployment, to jump way out in front of Republicans on the issue: In the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, Obama has a 15-point advantage over congressional Republicans on job creation, and his jobs package enjoys majority support.

The Republicans who assembled Wednesday on a patch of the Capitol lawn known as the “Senate Swamp” claimed that they, too, have a jobs plan: repealing Obamacare. “If the president wants a jobs bill, this is it: Repealing Obamacare is a jobs bill,” proposed Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.). “We don’t have to go through all the shenanigans of him coming up here and talking to a joint session of Congress.” Landry’s evidence that health care reform is killing jobs: a constituent claims he is reducing his workforce by 25 percent because of Obamacare — never mind that the relevant provisions don’t take effect for a few years.

Suspect statistics

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) offered a similar take as he waved around a copy of Obama’s jobs bill. The president, he said, “is out there demonizing anybody that won’t pass his jobs bill, but all he has to know is this: There is more jobs that will be created by repealing Obamacare.” Specifically, the GOP group complained that Obamacare is “costing us jobs — at least 800,000,” according to Sen. David Vitter (R-La.).

Additionally, said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), “it puts 3.2 million jobs at risk.” In case you doubt this, “these are all backed up by statistics,” the senator said. Not exactly. The 3.2 million figure was attributed to the International Franchise Association, a group that fought the health care bill. And the 800,000 jobs the bill is “costing” us? That was from a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the bill’s impact — in 2021.

The lawmakers were in the Swamp to receive a repeal-Obamacare petition signed by 1.6 million people, organizers claimed, at the urging of Mike Huckabee, R-Fox News, and conservative activist Ken Hoagland. Introducing the lawmakers, Hoagland said that “it’s not a surprise” small businesses have stopped hiring. “They will tell you: ‘I have 50 people. I cannot hire one more, because if I hire one more, I either pay huge fines to the IRS or I must provide comprehensive, expanded health care for everyone.’”

This is strange, because the relevant requirement for businesses larger than 50 employees does not take effect until 2014. The point was also contradicted, moments later, by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who argued that the health care law would allow businesses to save money by shifting costs to the government. “Employers are going to have a very easy decision to make,” he said. “Do I buy family coverage for about 10, 15 thousand, or do I pay a $2,000 penalty, and I wouldn’t be throwing my employees to the wolves. I’d be making them eligible for huge subsidies. So who wouldn’t take that deal?”

Toward the end of this 2010 reprise, Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) raised a valid point. “What we really needed to be focusing on two years ago was putting people back to work,” he said. “We literally spent two years fiddling while Rome was burning.” Right. And now Gingrey and his colleagues would resume the fiddling.