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A government shutdown isn't the best way to attack Obamacare

House Republicans are behaving like children in their threats to shut down the government, especially when they have better options to move their agenda.

The House has passed a bill to keep the government funded at current levels after September 30, less any funds for the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. Senate Democrats will send it back to the House stripped of that provision, where it will likely fail.

Theoretically the government will run out of money; however, Uncle Sam will continue withholding taxes from paychecks, and businesses must continue quarterly payments.

The president has authority to continue mandatory spending programs — Social Security and other benefits checks should go out — and to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life and property. The latter may embrace a pretty wide swath, but if history is any guide, the president will engage in some juvenile behavior of his own.

During the early days of sequestration, President Barack Obama sullenly threatened public safety by not realigning funds to keep enough air traffic controllers and food inspectors on the job.

Draconian warnings that prison guards and cooks will not be paid are extrapolation from such conduct. Will Mr. Obama release the inmates at federal penitentiaries to avoid keeping and feeding them in their cells?

Mr. Obama wants to run America like a banana republic — impose whatever laws he likes and reduce Congress to a compliant debating society.

Obamacare was passed through Congress by sleight of hand — a few Republican senators were duped into voting for the bill on the supposition it would be renegotiated in a House-Senate conference committee that never materialized.

The law has not gained legitimacy among the majority of Americans, to the peril of Democrats. In states where Senate races will be highly contested this fall and in House districts leaning Republican or likely to be contested, a significant majority of independent voters oppose Obamacare.

Shutting down the government will spoil that potential GOP support — especially because the president is in a position to make such a shutdown as painful as possible.

Obamacare is already creating huge headaches. So much so that businesses have been exempted from the requirement that they provide health insurance to employees for one year; the state and federal health insurance exchanges are simply not ready to provide accurate pricing and coverage information to individuals who must purchase coverage under the law; labor unions who supported the law are asking for permanent exemptions from it; and employers like Starbucks are compelled by the law's rigid application to drop insurance coverage for part-time workers.

House Republicans would do better to exploit those problems by linking continued government funding to a one-year delay in the individual mandate to purchase health insurance and some of the law's other more onerous requirements, and offer the president the opportunity to renegotiate the law in ways that broaden public support and make it palatable to most Americans.

That would give Republicans a platform to run on next fall, but Republicans cling to false notions that the health care system was just fine before Obamacare. Alas, it was not, and it remains much more expensive than the German and many other European systems that deliver universal coverage and better results.

Obstructionist threats and obstinacy won't make the GOP a governing party again. Instead, they will result in the election of a more Democratic House, a continuing Democratic Senate and another Democratic president to succeed Mr. Obama.

Like adolescents maturing to adulthood, Republicans must learn to deal with the world as they find it, not as they wish it would be.

Peter Morici, an economist and professor at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, is a widely published columnist. His email is pmorici@rhsmith.umd.edu. Twitter: @pmorici1.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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