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The Obamacare defunding madness

Our view: Time is running out for Republicans to come to their senses and stop their irrational march toward a government shutdown

2:38 PM EDT, September 24, 2013

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Surely, even for Democrats there's remarkably little joy to be had in watching mainstream Republicans turn on Senators Mike Lee and Ted Cruz for forcing the GOP into a suicide mission. The big show in Washington — the final (at least one can hope) showdown over Obamacare — is in its last week (again, one hopes), and things are getting ugly.

Not that the internal squabbles aren't amusing — watching the usual conservative pundits at outlets like the Wall Street Journal or Fox News bemoan the excesses of their tea party doctrinaire creations has quite the Frankenstein quality to it — but the ending is not likely to be tidy. It isn't the monster that will be vanquished in the final reel.

No, what this squabble is headed toward is a shutdown of the federal government, and it's ordinary, average Americans — those who depend on basic government services, Medicare coverage, benefit checks and that sort of thing — who are going to feel the brunt of this gothic novel. We've seen similar threats peter out before, but this one looks particularly nasty if only because, despite their protestations to the contrary, the rebels seem to want it. Why? Seemingly just to prove their fidelity to their cause or, as appears to be the case with Senator Cruz, position themselves for higher office.

What a colossal waste. If the target of their ire, the Affordable Care Act, were truly as evil as these opponents claim, they should stand down, let it be fully implemented and fail miserably and then allow the democratic process to run its course. Voters will judge harshly those who supported a law that did as much harm as Republicans claim the ACA will.

But, as Maryland's Rep. Chris Van Hollen and others have pointed out, the real fear is that it will work — that it will provide private health insurance for those who don't have it, ensure people aren't rejected from coverage because of pre-existing conditions and help keep down costs. Over and over again, the GOP has cried wolf over Obamacare. Every bad outcome in health care from employers dropping coverage to health care providers leaving their profession has been blamed on the law — as if our health care system was a model of fairness, effectiveness and efficiency before.

Here's one example. Newly-announced cutbacks and possible layoffs at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic have been blamed on Obamacare. Conservatives on the Internet have gone wild over the story, pointing to it as an example of how the law is killing jobs. But the reality is quite different. As TheAtlantic.com recently pointed out, the cutbacks are coming as part of a broader effort to pare costs and restructure the hospital industry.

Would the GOP prefer the government give the health care industry a blank check for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements? Weren't they the ones talking about slashing entitlements? Such reductions would be coming with or without health care reform. It's notable that the House-approved budget includes such savings, too. Apparently, the cost-cutting elements of Obamacare don't bother opponents so much that they would reject them (except rhetorically and when it's convenient).

And here's another fib. Is there going to be a tidal wave of employers forcing their workers into part-time status so they won't have to pay for health care insurance? It's impossible to know for sure, but surveys show that's highly unlikely. Few employers want to lose good, well-trained and experienced workers, and offering health care insurance and other benefits remains a good way to attract and retain such employees with or without health care reform. Experts say the overwhelming majority of people who already have health insurance through their employers are not going to be affected one way or the other.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: This business of taking hostages and threatening irrational, self-destructive behavior is no way to run a government. Democrats control the U.S. Senate and the White House. They are not going to abandon health care reform now because an extremist group within the GOP wants that really, really badly. To expect otherwise is sheer lunacy.

Senator Cruz, for all his bluster, isn't going to make much headway in the Senate. The House, on the other hand, is capable of hurtling this nation back over the economic precipice if they persist in this irrational campaign to deny funding for Obamacare. How could they believe the public wants a return to recession? Even the threat of a shutdown is having a chilling effect on the economy and the stock market, and it could get a lot worse when the debt ceiling is tossed in the mix, too.

To quote Mary Shelley, "What can stop the determined heart and resolved will of man?" One can only hope that sweet reason will show up on the scene soon.