On Tuesday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) took to the floor to speak against the health reform law, attempting to block a funding bill from coming to a vote in the Senate. Cruz has been pushing to derail that funding bill unless it includes a provision to defund Obamacare — a far-right strategy that could ultimately force the federal government to shut down next week, and a tactic that doesn’t actually have the support of GOP leadership or the vast majority of Republican voters. Nonetheless, when he began speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Cruz vowed to continue his “speaking filibuster” until he is “no longer able to stand.”
Cruz’s dramatic anti-Obamacare crusade has captured media attention for weeks. But when it comes to the realities of health reform, it couldn’t matter less.
First of all, it’s not a real filibuster. Whether or not Cruz keeps speaking, and regardless of how long he ends up going on, the Senate will still vote on the continuing resolution tomorrow. This weekend, even Fox News was confused about why Cruz thought this political ploy could work.
And even if the provision in question that seeks to “defund Obamacare” somehow managed to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, it wouldn’t actually do anything to bring the health reform law to a grinding halt. The main avenues of reform that will extend health coverage to additional Americans — the Medicaid expansion and the subsidies available to help people buy plans on the state-level marketplaces — aren’t affected by the fight over annual appropriations.
If Cruz and his fellow Tea Party Republicans successfully derail the budget negotiations altogether and force the government to shut down, that won’t stop Obamacare implementation from marching forward, either. Much of the money that finances health reform has already been appropriated, and can only be removed if the law is repealed altogether. In an opinion piece published last week, E.J. Dionne suggested that a government shutdown could actually ironically help the law’s popularity. That’s because, if the health law’s enrollment period experiences a few hiccups along the way (as any new government program undoubtedly will), this political battle may convince Americans that Republicans are actually to blame for that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Republicans aren’t actively working to sabotage the health reform law in very real ways. At nearly every turn, anti-Obamacare lawmakers have done everything in their power to hamper reform. They’ve refused to extend health coverage to additional low-income Americans by rejecting the law’s optional Medicaid expansion. They’ve undermined national public outreach efforts to teach Americans more about their options under the law, and slashed the state-level budgets dedicated to marketing the new insurance plans. They’ve attempted to slow down enrollment by placing unnecessary restrictions on the people who are supposed to help Americans sign up for new Obamacare coverage. They’ve disseminated misinformation about the law and confused most people about what it actually does. Some states have even simply refused to implement Obamacare’s provisions altogether.
There are still very real threats to Obamacare, but they’re largely happening on a state level. Some of them are particularly insidious. For instance, grassroots campaigns are attempting to convince Americans to thwart the health reform law by simply going uninsured.
The issues to pay attention to don’t have anything to do with Tea Party politicians making the rounds on Sunday news shows or wasting time on the Senate floor. Obamacare’s marketplaces open for enrollment in exactly one week, and it’s a critical time for health reform. But Cruz is simply a distraction.