The Latest Republican Threat: Obamacare or Your Life

| Tue Jul. 23, 2013 11:08 AM EDT

A few weeks ago, Republicans unveiled their latest brainstorm: a menu of concessions that President Obama could choose from in order to avoid a debt limit crisis. Privatizing Medicare would get him a debt limit increase for the rest of his term. Cutting SNAP and block granting Medicaid would buy him a couple of years. Means testing Social Security would get him a few months.

The whole thing was childish enough that it died a quick death even among tea partiers. So now they have a new rallying cry: repeal Obamacare or they'll shut down the government. Ed Kilgore comments:

I'm not sure congressional Republicans really want to enter a promising midterm election year just having engineered another phony crisis, but I also don't know if they can put this particular genie back in the bottle. It's taken a few years, but the GOP has managed to talk itself into a very firm belief that this national version of Mitt Romney's Massachusetts health plan is a satanic abomination that will either, depending on which talking point they are following at any particular moment, crash and burn taking the entire U.S. economy down with it, or succeed in seducing Americans to sell themselves into the voluntary slavery of "socialized medicine."

At a time when major elements of the GOP's conservative "base" are already convinced—because they hear it constantly from conservative media gabbers—that the only thing standing in the way of total victory for The Cause is the weakness of GOP lawmakers, the "kill Obamacare or shut down the government" war cry could quickly get way out of hand. It doesn't help that so many conservatives continue to believe, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, that a government shutdown would show Americans how little they actually miss Big Government.

In a sense, I suppose this was inevitable. Republicans are convinced that once Obamacare goes into effect on January 1, it will become popular pretty quickly and repeal will be off the table forever. So the closer we get to D-Day, the more desperate they get to derail it.

For what it's worth, I think Republicans are right to believe this. Behavioral economics taught us a long time ago that people react a lot more strongly to losing something than they do to not getting it in the first place. Once guaranteed issue and community rating and subsidies and all the rest have been in place for a year, even tea partiers will be loath to see them taken away.

So it's now or never. I don't know if cooler heads will prevail on this, but the appeal of combining debt ceiling hostage theatrics with repeal of the hated Obamacare is pretty obvious. We might be hearing about this for a while.

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