House Speaker John Boehner published an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer today demanding that the Affordable Care Act be placed on the table for cuts in the ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotations.
In the op-ed, Boehner explains his belief that “As was the case before the election, Obamacare has to go.”
“The president’s health care law adds a massive, expensive, unworkable government program at a time when our national debt already exceeds the size of our country’s entire economy. We can’t afford it, and we can’t afford to leave it intact,” Boehner writes. “That’s why I’ve been clear that the law has to stay on the table as both parties discuss ways to solve our nation’s massive debt challenge.”
The speaker goes on to praise Ohio governor John Kasich for refusing to set up a health care exchange in Ohio — a step that several Republican governors are taking in a last-ditch effort to weaken the law. He also suggested that congressional Republicans will use the oversight process to attack the law.
“Over the past couple of years, I have noted there are essentially three major routes to repeal of the president’s law: the courts, the presidential election process and the congressional oversight process. With two of those three routes having come up short, the third and final one becomes more important than ever,” Boehner writes.
“Vigorous oversight of the health care law by the House can be expected and, in fact, is already under way.”
There are two ways to interpret Boehner’s suddenly bellicose rhetoric on health care reform. The first is that he genuinely intends to put President Obama’s signature achievement on the chopping block in negotiations with the White House. This would obviously be unacceptable to Democrats, and would almost certainly prevent the two sides from reaching a deal before the country goes “over the cliff” in January.
The second is that Boehner is merely playing to his base. After all, the speaker recently acknowledged that the president’s re-election cements that “Obamacare is the law of the land,” and suggested that repealing the law would no longer be a top legislative priority. This op-ed promising to continue targeting health care reform may be an effort to reassure conservatives that he has not given up.
Even if this is the case, however, it may signal trouble for the upcoming negotiations. As Greg Sargent writes in The Plum Line, “One Dem I spoke to worried that the mere fact that Boehner still has to throw sops like this to the Tea Party wing means he feels more beholden to them than Dems had hoped — which wouldn’t bode well for the talks.”
In any case, Boehner and the Republicans hold very little leverage in the fiscal cliff negotiations. The speaker can ask for cuts to the Affordable Care Act, but — with control of the White House and the Senate — Democrats have no reason to acquiesce to his demand. If Boehner holds firm and no deal is reached after all, it is rather clear who voters will blame for the failure.
Photo credit: AP/Susan Walsh