Why did Republicans draw a line in the sand on Obamacare?

The GOP bet big — and appears to have lost — on trying to a repeal a law whose provisions are strikingly popular and getting more so

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House Republicans shut down the government to prevent the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The GOP controls neither the White House nor Senate, and Republicans enjoy their House majority despite collectively receiving more than 1 million fewer votes nationwide in 2012 than Democratic House candidates did. The House GOP is a minority masked as a majority, one that has used its control of one branch to hold the rest of the government hostage — even though 24 House Republicans have stated they would join with Democrats to pass a clean reconciliation bill to end the shutdown, if only Speaker John Boehner would allow a floor roll call vote.

In my last column I asked: Less than a year after losing the White House and net seats in both chambers, how can this gerrymandering-aided, minority-posing-as-a-majority Republican House justify trying to gut a law passed by the House and Senate and signed by the president only three years ago and certified as constitutional by a Republican-appointed chief justice and the Supreme Court?

Conservatives, including many readers, say the Constitution requires laws and budgets to be approved by both chambers of Congress and the president, giving the GOP House majority sufficient authority to engage in whatever obstructionist ploys they choose, and that's that.

I disagree, but let's set this issue aside to ask an obvious follow-up: Why Obamacare? Surely there are other laws the House Republicans and their constituents would like to see altered or repealed.

Opponents claim the ACA will bankrupt the country, or somehow ruin our underperforming, overpriced health care system. But the law's major provisions are just taking hold; the state insurance exchanges opened the same day, Oct. 1, that the government shutdown began. Nobody can say for sure what its effects will be.

To which Republicans reply: But the public hates Obamacare, and so it's our democratic duty to repeal or at least delay its implementation.

But do Americans really oppose the Affordable Care Act? Yes, quote-unquote "Obamacare" is unpopular, with disapproval rates trending around 55 percent, with roughly 45 percent approving. But the Affordable Care Act is actually quite popular.

If that sounds like a contradiction, it is: Americans like almost all of the ACA's key provisions; unfortunately, they don't realize many of the most popular provisions are part of the law.

According to the Kaiser Foundation's March 2013 health tracking poll, here are the percentages of Americans — first for all respondents, followed in parentheses by Republicans only — who approve of various ACA provisions: Provide tax credits to small businesses to buy insurance, 88 percent (83 percent); close Medicare's co-called "doughnut hole," 81 percent (74 percent); create health insurance exchanges, 80 percent (72 percent); extend coverage for dependents, 76 percent (68 percent); provide subsidy assistance to individuals, 76 percent (61 percent); expand Medicaid, 71 percent (42 percent); prohibit insurance companies from rejecting people for coverage because of pre-existing conditions, 66 percent (56 percent); limiting the amount of premiums that can go to insurance company administration and profits, 65 percent (62 percent); increase Medicare payroll tax on high earners, 60 percent (37 percent); and require large employers to provide insurance, 57 percent (36 percent).

That's majority support for all 10 provisions, in nine cases by 60 percent or more. Heck, a majority of Republicans support seven of these 10 provisions. Keep in mind that we live in a country more polarized than at any time since the advent of polling — a time when 60 percent of Americans agree on almost nothing.

The one ACA provision a majority of Americans oppose? That would be the individual mandate, an idea first proposed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and initially advocated by Newt Gingrich and scads of other Republicans. Today conservatives hate it because, I gather, Barack Obama supports it.

Sadly, the Kaiser poll revealed that roughly half of Americans don't even realize these popular provisions are part of the ACA. The fact that Americans apparently disapprove of a bill despite liking almost every part of it testifies to the conservative media's demonizing powers. If liberals really controlled the media, wouldn't a popular law be, well, popular? (FYI: Approval rates are rising since the shutdown.)

That the House Republicans have used unprecedented and dangerous tactics to try to gut the Affordable Care Act even though majorities of Americans (including Republicans!) support almost every key provision of the bill — except the part conservative Republicans long-ago proposed — testifies to just how insane the tea party-beholden House GOP has become.

Thomas F. Schaller teaches political science at UMBC. His column appears every other Wednesday. His email is schaller67@gmail.com. Twitter: @schaller67.

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