As long as the radical, far-right tea party wing of the GOP continues to exist, the party's establishment will have no choice but to skulk around in the shadows -- the only place where they can act like adults and where they don't have to be feckless posers, pandering to extremists who have no grasp on political or historical realities. The tea party and, with it, the far-right blogosphere, talk radio and Fox News Channel (so much for a "liberal media bias," eh?) has rendered the congressional Republican leadership so emasculated and impotent, I tend to actually debate with myself whether I should cheer or jeer the continued existence of the tri-corner hat crowd.
But at the end of the day, and thinking rationally about the resurrection of a functioning Congress, it's ultimately better to have a marginalized, weakened tea party and a robust center-right GOP, instead of what's clearly happening now: a party with its privates in a vice-grip cranked tenaciously by the fringe loudmouths and freakdogs.
Case in point, as I noted yesterday, Congress, with plenty of Republican support, passed H.R. 4302 "Protecting Access to Medicare Act of 2014," or what's known as the "doc fix," which eliminated an impending cut on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. Contained within that legislation was an amendment altering the Obamacare deductible cap on group health insurance policies, making it easier for small businesses to afford to cover employees by offering higher deductible, lower premium coverage. It's been widely considered to be an improvement to the law, helping more people to afford insurance, even though the insurance won't be nearly as good as policies with capped deductibles.
The "doc fix" bill, with the Obamacare improvement attached, was signed into law by the president on March 31 -- almost entirely unnoticed by the screechers on the far-right.
Until yesterday, that is, when this appeared...
...which, in effect, released the hounds. Outrage spread throughout the right-wing-o-sphere as well as congressional GOP circles. House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor were spanked for allowing the improvement to pass, thus offering legitimacy to the evil, evil Affordable Care Act. Not only that, but Republicans who voted for the bill are suddenly finding themselves politically attached to Obamacare.
Indeed, for the amendment to have passed, it had to have been done quietly. Very quietly. In fact, the House passed the bill with a voice vote, so most GOP House members didn't know what was in it. (It passed the Senate 64-35 with 16 Republican "yea" votes.)
But that's not the sneakiest part.
When confronted by the Drudge headline and the subsequent outrage, Boehner's office issued a statement that raised spin and political doublespeak to amazingly twisted Frank-Luntzian levels. Yes, Boehner's office is trying to tell angry Republicans that it repealed part of Obamacare, and thus victory!
The law includes Rep. Tom Reed’s (R-NY) bill (H.R. 2995) that repeals the cap on deductibles for health plans in the small group market. Repealing this provision will give employers more flexibility over the type of health care options they can offer their employees, and will expand the use of high-deductible plans paired with Health Savings Accounts (HSAs).
Boehner himself said, "The truth is you can’t fix this law –- it needs to be torn out by its roots. You may be tired of hearing about this but as long as this law is around we’re going to keep fighting it."
"Repeals the cap on deductibles." "You can't fix this law." Interesting ways to put it. So by making Obamacare insurance group plans more affordable and therefore more accessible, this is somehow a repeal, which is a word generally taken to signify damage. Put another way, when the anti-Obamacare zealots use the word "repeal" in this context, it wants to do harm to Obamacare, not improve it. Ever.
It's highly doubtful the rest of the party will accept Boehner's spin, but if they do, it might be an opportunity to actually get some positive things done. From now on, we could frame all improvements to various laws as being repeals. Hell, while they're at it, perhaps they could "repeal" the part of Medicare that sets the eligibility age at 65, or maybe they could "repeal" the Social Security law that caps payroll taxable income at $106,800.
Ultimately, Boehner and the GOP leadership have no choice but to operate underground, to gutlessly sneak behind the backs of this multi-headed hydra of wingnut insanity -- this Tea Party Inquisition it helped to muster. But really, Boehner and the GOP establishment should've been focused on wresting back control of the party a long time ago. Instead, the batshit tail is wagging the establishment dog.
Post script: The Democrats should always take this lesson seriously. It could absolutely happen to them, too.