Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

GOP's self-destructive approach on Obamacare

By Julian Zelizer, CNN Contributor
July 22, 2013 -- Updated 1144 GMT (1944 HKT)
Speaker John Boehner stands next to a printed version of the Affordable Care Act on May 16 in Washington.
Speaker John Boehner stands next to a printed version of the Affordable Care Act on May 16 in Washington.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • House Republicans voted to delay Affordable Care Act's individual health care mandate
  • Julian Zelizer: GOP risks fissures as Obamacare benefits become clear to Americans
  • He says GOP governors are at odds with legislators over aspects of the law
  • Zelizer: Uncompromising stance on health care is bad strategy for GOP

Editor's note: Julian Zelizer is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author of "Jimmy Carter" and "Governing America."

(CNN) -- Last week, House Republicans voted to delay the implementation of the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act, trying to take advantage of President Obama's announcement that the employer mandate will be delayed for a year. The vote is purely symbolic as there is no chance that the Senate will pass the bill.

Striking a populist tone, Republicans argued that individuals should be afforded the same rights as big businesses. The response of the GOP is predictable, as House Republicans have been steadfast in their efforts to block the administration from making progress on any new bills and to cause problems for those that are already on the books. The hope of conservatives like Paul Ryan is that this is just the first step.

Karl Rove's Crossroads also released a video called "ObamaCareNado," playing on the television movie phenomenon "Sharknado," with the announcer warning that "Nobody is safe from its wrath." The video throws in a healthy dose of IRS images, just in case anyone thought that scandal would be soon laid to rest.

And on yesterday's "Face the Nation", Speaker John Boehner called Obama's health care law "not ready for prime time" and promised further action to seek to block it, saying, "we're going to stay at it."

Julian Zelizer
Julian Zelizer

But if House Republicans keep pushing too hard against the Affordable Care Act, they could easily open up more internal fissures, creating a party that is even more fraught with tensions as the presidential election of 2016 comes closer.

The strategy of congressional Republicans toward the health care program has evolved. At first, Republicans were relatively unified in their opposition, both during the debate over the passage of the legislation in 2009 and 2010 and in the two years that followed with the early stages of implementation.

During that time, almost every Republican consistently challenged the argument that the legislation would improve the overall quality of the nation's health care system and make it more equitable.

Two sides of Obamacare
Business owners still split on Obamacare

Republicans also challenged its constitutional legitimacy. But those arguments started to fade away among Republicans, first when the Supreme Court ruled that the law was constitutional in June 2012 and then when President Obama was re-elected.

The internal tensions among Republicans became worse over the past few months as the states needed to make decisions about whether to take an infusion of federal Medicaid funding that was part of the legislation, a key component that would help insure more of the poor.

Not only did many red-state Republicans believe this funding would help constituents, but they also heard from doctors and hospitals that depend on Medicaid to survive. When Congress originally passed the bill, most Republican governors had steadfastly insisted that they would not accept the funds. But those objections started to fade away for many in the GOP when the money was actually before them.

Many stalwart conservative governors, like Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio, and Jan Brewer in Arizona said they would take the funds despite previous statements. They found themselves in open conflict with their own Republican legislatures over the issue. Those tensions have not all been resolved, but the support of Republican governors for the money changed the political dynamics quite significantly.

Now the challenges for the House Republicans who are still opposing the bill are becoming even more difficult -- despite all the press about how the delay in the employer mandate signals huge challenges -- as concrete benefits start to roll out.

This was already clear when younger Americans under 26 started to enjoy continued coverage under their parents' plans, a fact not forgotten in the election when the youth vote swung to Obama once again.

Now the challenges are intensifying. The same week that there was all the discussion about the delay of the mandate, and as Republicans were trying to seize advantage from the delay, The New York Times reported more visible signs of what the program may bring. For those who don't receive benefits through their employers and will purchase benefits through health care exchanges, the cost of insurance will fall by 50% or more. In New York City an individual could see his or her bill drop from $1,000 a month to $308 a month. Similar declines have been reported in California and Oregon.

Unless something goes terribly wrong for ACA, House Republicans might want to think twice about continuing with their attacks on this program. As ACA gets further away from the period when the program was most vulnerable, and as the administration is getting closer to the period when the benefits start rolling out, more constituents -- in red and blue states -- will cast a skeptical eye toward any legislator who tries to take away their benefits.

Speaker John Boehner, already struggling as House Republicans make decisions on immigration that could have detrimental effects on the political standing of the party, might want to move on to different issues.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Julian Zelizer.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT