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To Defund Or Not To Defund, That Is The Question

By Igor Volsky

"To Defund Or Not To Defund, That Is The Question"

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Last week, during a conference call with bloggers, Nancy-Ann DeParle — the director of the White House Office for health reform — admitted that “any aspect” of the Affordable Care Act “could be defunded” if Republicans gain control of the House after the mid term elections. “But I’m confident that Democrats are going to be running the House in November, and the Senate as well. So I don’t expect to see any of those things. I’m not making plans for that,” DeParle said in response to a question from the Wonk Room.

But today, Bloomberg’s Alex Wayne has an ominous look for what’s to come if the GOP does, in fact, take control of the House:

John Murray, a spokesman for Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the second-ranking Republican in the House, said that if control of the House flips, possible targets for defunding may be the insurance exchanges, the new agency set up under the law to compare different drugs’ effectiveness and any added staffing that may be sought to manage coverage expansions.

By vetoing spending measures that don’t include money for the law, Obama may set up a situation similar to the 1995 government shutdown triggered by a spending dispute between the then Republican-controlled Congress and Democratic President Bill Clinton. [...]

Tiahrt said a shutdown wouldn’t necessarily be bad, considering the enthusiasm among Tea Party and Republican activists for limiting the size of government.

The prospect of Congress changing hands the year after passing a law as complex as the overhaul, then attempting to defund the law’s implementation may be unprecedented, said Paul Van de Water, a health-care expert at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

“I can’t think of any previous attempt to kill a major presidential initiative by not funding it,” he said in an e- mail.

Indeed, denying funds for implementation seems like a real threat and a short-term political win for Republicans: if Americans don’t feel the benefits of health reform, they’ll never support it. But I question the wisdom of the GOP’s strategy of governing towards the most extreme corners of their base and ignoring those who really need health benefits. After all, if they’re freezing reform and perpetuating the status quo, at some point Republicans will have to own all of the headlines about people losing coverage and costs skyrocketing. Defunding may please the Tea Party, but it does nothing to address the existing health system — which has now become a serious political problem for whichever party is in power.

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