Lester Feder of Georgetown Law Center’s O’Neill Health Law Institute has an interesting new interview with James Morone — a professor of political science at Brown University — who points out that while we have seen partisan politics break out over past social reforms, never before has the partisan rhetoric extended into implementation:
Normally in our political system, when we have enormous battles over legislation, most political actors consider the politics done when the legislative battle is over. What’s new here is the idea that the battle goes on into the implementation phase. This wasn’t true for Social Security, it wasn’t true for Medicare, it wasn’t true for civil rights. Of course, interest groups always continued to fight to get the best deal possible in implementation. But that’s very different from it being Democrats versus Republicans or liberals versus conservatives. Today’s situation is very different.[...]
I’m not sure the Democrats have been quite this insistent after losing legislation. To have the Republican Party be this forceful about a position after the normal political process has run its course is pretty extraordinary.
Morone goes on to explain why he thinks this is in parts I and II of Lester’s interview (both of which are very much worth reading), but I just want to underscore the passion with which the GOP is opposing this law. When I spoke with some Republican staffers on the hill last week about what could only be described as relatively futile legislative effort to repeal the law, they practically screamed at me that they will never, ever, accept that reform has become law and will work very hard to repeal the measure. “Why should we accept something that’s unconstitutional,” they asked.
Indeed, Republicans are using every single obscure regulation and appointment to re-litigate the health care reform debate. In addition to Sen. John Barrasso’s (R-WY) weekly ‘Second Opinion’ speech, prominent Republicans take to the floor and pen op-eds on a daily basis to condemn the new law and celebrate the states that are refusing to implement it. On Monday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) argued that the new grandfathering regulations would cause many Americans to lose the coverage they have. Yesterday Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) proclaimed, “we’re not going to quit on this issue, we’re not going to quit on this issue. It’s going to be repeal and replace.” And today, House Minority Leader John Boehner issued a 43-page report rehashing the GOP’s health care talking points.
It’s important not to overstate the cohesion of the GOP campaign, since different factions have adopted different strategies, but it’s safe to say that their larger goal is to goad Democrats into rehashing the 2009 health care legislative debate, rather than looking ahead towards implementation. But that kind of discussion, in which we argue back and forth about CBO scores, diminishes the legislative accomplishment and adds extra weight to the GOP critique. It’s not the role of the minority party to set the terms of debate — particularly when they’re doing so for such transparently political purposes.
President Obama said it best when he framed the discussion this way: “They want to go back to the system we had before.” “Would you?” he asked during yesterday’s Patients’ Bill Of Rights unveiling. Would you want to go back to discriminating against children with preexisting conditions? Would you want to go back to dropping coverage for people when they get sick? Would you want to reinstate lifetime limits on benefits so that mothers like Amy have to worry? We’re not going back. I refuse to go back.”
If the GOP continues to press ahead with repeal, they might slow down the implementation process, but they’ll also run the risk of fading into historical irrelevancy. Who remembers the legislators who led the fight against Social Security or Medicare and better yet, who celebrates them?