Herd mentality on issues is not something unique to the political Left or the political Right, but in either case populist tendencies can be downright dangerous, leading to unintended consequences. No matter how good an idea seems at the outset, it is always good to ask what could go wrong. Zealotry interferes with this basic question and places pressure on those who may doubt the wisdom of an idea, risking indignation from those they consider allies, to remain silent. Principled people will resist this temptation to go along to get along, making known their objections, explaining why, then letting the chips fall where they may.
We currently see herd movement on the Conservative side, with the attempt to defund Obamacare by making it ransom for cooperation in passage of a continuing budget resolution in order to keep the Federal government functioning past September 30. Looking around, there appears to be unanimity among the grassroots on this issue. Freedom Works, Heritage Action, Tea Party Patriots are all on board, being led by Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee among others. Ads on Hannity and Rush and the Blaze are all promoting defund. A rally at the capitol has been planned for September 10 and busloads of protestors will be making the trek. “Exempt America from Obamacare” is the cry. Yet there are a small handful of dissenters, myself among them, warning of the potential foolishness of this approach.
Jennifer Stefano, head of the Pennsylvania chapter of Americans for Prosperity, minced no words in her August 9 op-ed for the Patriot-News and Pennlive.com. She boldly said that those “pushing the ‘defund Obamacare or shut down the government’ fight are wrong. One hundred and ten percent wrong” and to conservatives, “your government shutdown approach has got to stop.”
Following that, on August 14 Avik Roy of the Manhattan Institute, and one of the foremost opponents of Obamacare and defenders of market based healthcare reform solutions, published an op-ed in National Review Online. Wasting not a second, his title read, “Obamacare’s Shutdown Shock-Jocks Ted Cruz and Mike Lee have a plan-to make Obamacare permanent.”
Neither Stefano nor Roy suggest anything that might confound the atrocity of Obamacare is a bad idea. Both do suggest, however, that tying defunding to the budget resolution has the potential to backfire big time. They both point to polls showing little public support for shutting down the government. Supporters try to say that it would be Democrats and Obama shutting down the government, not them. Obama and the Left, of course, along with a complicit media, will rail against the Republicans and Conservatives in particular. With the current political realities, a festering shutdown deadlock in the face of unfavorable polls would be the likely outcome. The implications of this would then likely carry a price, perhaps a heavy one, going into 2014.
So back to political leverage in connection with allowing the federal government to continue operating past the end of September: There is one thing on which conservatives could only win. Tie any budget cooperation to passage of the REINS Act. The what? Exactly! Use it as ransom for cooperation. There are no illusions REINS would actually pass, and backing away short of a government shutdown would be necessary, but after weeks in the spotlight, everyone who pays even a small amount of attention to politics would have a good understanding of a brilliant concept, of which too many conservatives are still unaware. That alone could be a huge victory.
Briefly, the REINS Act would put limits on an out of control trend toward legislation by regulation (or regulation as legislation), whereby departments and agencies can make things up as they go, despite the economic impact on those who must comply. Under REINS any regulation with implementation impacts greater than $100million (including Obamacare) would require the consent (and accountability) of Congress. This puts REINS in a very special class of ideas that seek to step away from an overly powerful central government, rather than stepping further into it! In that respect it is a revolutionary tool of disengagement from bloated central authority. Promoting such a concept, showcasing the REINS Act, would define and position the GOP going into 2014 as the party of limited central government in a way that may force a discussion the Left would rather not have or expect. Contrast this approach with the risks of tying defunding Obamacare to the continuing resolution, especially when defund or delay can still be pursued (and should be) via general orders apart from any budget resolution.
Additionally, the Obamacare mess has been speaking badly for itself lately, to the extent that, along with parts that have already been delayed, even Democrats and disenchanted labor unions may find total delay palatable before long. Avik Roy pointed out, because defund, even if possible, would extend only one year or the length of any budget resolution, it and delay are really the same.
A wonderful description and history of REINS, followed by examples of federal government excesses that demand it, can be found in Phil Kerpen’s 2011 book Democracy Denied.
Originally introduced in the 112th Congress, REINS has been reintroduced in the current Congress as HR 367. It passed the House on August 2, 2013 by a 232-183 vote.