A real referendum on Obamacare

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WASHINGTON -- A year and a month from now, in the November 2014 congressional elections, American voters will have their next opportunity to cast a real vote for or against President Obama's beleaguered health care law.

The result then, which will decide the political composition of Congress for the following two years, will go a long way toward settling whether, as many polls seem to indicate, the law is wildly unpopular, or is a desired security blanket for millions of the previously uninsured.

Until then, the critics of what they mockingly call Obamacare will be free to claim that the law -- not some unsanctioned "bill" that the duly elected members of Congress have yet to approve and the Supreme Court to validate -- is unwanted by "the people." But by then, the health-care law will have been in force for more than a year, proving itself either a boon or a bust.

Right now, the country is experiencing a contradictory phenomenon. The anti-Obamacare zealots in Congress, particularly in the House, and on ultraconservative radio and television talk shows insist Americans want no part of the law. At the same time, those seeking insurance flock to sign-up sites and online enrollment portals in such numbers that both venues are overwhelmed.

Many petitioners, no doubt, are only in the exploratory phase of their interest. But the stampede hardly suggests that they regard the new health-care law as some kind of contagious disease from which to flee. At best, the jury is out on whether this bold plan, which had as its forebear a program instituted by a Republican governor in Democratic Massachusetts, will in the end be embraced or repulsed on Main Street USA.

For that reason, the current brouhaha over Obamacare that has shut down the federal government isn't likely to be resolved anytime soon. The House Republicans, having been unable to derail, defeat, repeal or defund the law, continue to engage in political self-immolation by appearing to halt the wheels of federal machinery to get their way.

President Obama, heretofore attacked even in his own party for seeming to be a wet noodle in the executive branch soup, has finally stiffened, betting that the blame for the whole fiasco will fall on the congressional opposition. His charge that the balking legislators are refusing to do the job for which they were elected is an easy one to make under the circumstances.

The House Republicans, behind their hapless non-leader John Boehner, have been trying without success to tempt Obama with piecemeal proposals to exempt this or that special interest from the shutdown. They are playing a transparently losing game this time around, and the longer they fail to recognize it, the longer the farce is likely to go on.

Meanwhile, other truly world-shaking developments are brewing, foremost in the Middle East where there is at least the possibility of a peaceful end to Syrian chemical-weapons showdown, and an opening to a similar resolution of Iran's nuclear-weapons quest.

All this background music only magnifies the folly of the Washington stare-down over closing the government to extort negotiations on the legally enacted health-care law that is, and is likely to remain, the domestic centerpiece of Obama's waning presidency.

Obama meanwhile holds to the supposed regular order in Washington, in which Congress enacts laws after due internal deliberation and the president enforces them, and Congress authorizes the money to pay the government's bills for obligations it has already approved.

Until the House Republicans step up to the plate and do their job, public opinion seems likely to exact a heavy price from them. Whether the harm will last until next year's congressional elections is an open question, however, because ousting legislators in entrenched conservative districts will be no sure thing.

Yet the Republicans seem willing to stake all on bringing down Obamacare in what right now is an uneven match, as various aspects of the nation's economy and workforce, in and out of the federal government, just watch and worry in disgust.

(Jules Witcover's latest book is "Joe Biden: A Life of Trial and Redemption" (William Morrow). You can respond to this column at juleswitcover@comcast.net.)

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Editorial Poll


Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

GOP suing Obama [Poll]

Should the GOP sue President Obama over his failure to enforce certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act, as they've promised to do?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure