25 September 2013


Ideally, someone will take the trouble for the rest of us to search through the entire length of Senator Cruz's marathon speech against funding the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") to find anything resembling a substantive argument. Although we've all been told that his speech doesn't count as a filibuster, it had many of a filibuster's ingredients, i.e. time-filling irrelevancies. It was meant to take time from everyone else, and the "genius" American government is that it allows a lone dissident to do that, presumably on the assumption that sufficiently strong objections should force time for second thoughts (or compromises of interests) upon everyone. Cruz did not appear to be stalling for compromise. He wants Congress to defund the ACA, as is its prerogative. As far as I know, his most substantive argument for defunding is that Obamacare will have a staggering effect on the economy, and particularly on job creation. We already see evidence that some companies are reducing hours for workers, or holding back from hiring more, to stay below the minimum number of full-time employees that would compel them to provide health insurance. Economists are debating (with whatever degree of partisanship) whether this is simply consistent with long-term trends toward more part-time workers or whether the prospect of Obamacare itself is depressing the job market in a new way. In any event, the ACA is supposed to make new insurance options available for those not covered by their employers. In practical terms, there's nothing wrong with a critic arguing that the act isn't working or won't work if he can prove his case. A practical argument, however, is not an argument for defunding the act; it should be a call for amendments instead. Cruz probably wants it both ways, telling the ACA's supporters that it won't deliver what they're hoping for while reminding his base -- which he clearly hopes to make national -- that it is wrong on principle. The only reason to demand defunding is a belief that the whole thing is wrong on principle -- but what principle is that? Some Republicans reportedly have proposed an alternative to the ACA that promises to meet the demand for reduced costs and easier eligibility. They might argue that Obamacare is so fubar that the nation would be better off scrapping it and starting over toward the same general goal. Their real goal, most likely, is to eliminate as many obligations on employers as possible, without resorting to anything resembling "socialized medicine." Ultimately, a qualitative question is under debate: whether a civilized (or even a "free") society should make it easier for everyone to receive adequate health care than in the past. The sort of reactionary populism that Cruz expresses as a Tea Partier often seems to resent the idea of the future having it easier than the past, while Republicans in the main are the closest thing we have to H. L. Mencken's archetypal Puritan. The Puritan couldn't stand the idea that somebody somewhere was having fun; the 21st century Republican can't stand the idea that somebody somewhere is suffering less than the Republican thinks he should. That's not the whole argument against Obamacare, but it's a bigger part of it than many care to admit.

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