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Editorial: Demolition Derby; GOP Crew Is at It Again

To House Speaker John Boehner and the rest of the Republican wrecking crew, we say: Bring it on. Defund Obamacare, shut down the government, default on America’s debts. Go ahead, make the Democrats’ day.

They’re heading for a showdown. Yesterday, the House, led by its Republican majority, passed a temporary spending plan that would eliminate funding for the Affordable Care Act. If the GOP is really more interested in demolishing Obamacare than in governing the country responsibly, then let them make a mockery of themselves, Congress and the whole democratic process.

For once we agree with Republican uber-strategist Karl Rove: Boehner’s tactics serve only to strengthen the president and his party. Perhaps now the Democrats will awaken and come to the vigorous defense of a law that expands health insurance coverage, makes premiums more affordable for poor and working-class Americans and is expected to shave trillions off the federal deficit over the long term.

Boehner insists that a government shutdown is not his party’s goal. He says the aim is to stop Obamacare, a law conservatives love to hate. Having failed repeatedly to repeal the statute, House Republicans have resorted to what President Obama aptly calls “political extortion,” tying the further implementation of the ACA to a continuing budget resolution, or spending bill, necessary to keep the government in business beyond Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The ramifications of defunding aren’t entirely clear. Many provisions of the sweeping law, including significant regulatory changes to private insurance practices, are not only in effect but affecting millions in beneficial ways. The requirements that most irk conservatives, however — the federal mandate that most individuals carry insurance coverage and the establishment of insurance exchanges in every state — are to begin soon, with exchanges scheduled to open the same day the fiscal year begins. In this coincidence, Republicans saw an opportunity for a partisan fight.

Defunding would disrupt the financing and operation of the 34 exchanges managed by the federal government and perhaps prevent disbursement of federal tax credits to which more than half of exchange users are eligible. Those subsidies, by the way, are financed by a variety of spending cuts and new taxes already approved by Congress. Would defunding defund those funds? Fundamentally unclear.

Of course, a spending plan that defunded the Affordable Care Act would not get through the Democratic-led Senate or escape the president’s veto. Boehner knows this, so defunding is just a setup for a congressional impasse over the federal budget, which appears increasingly likely. So, the Republicans’ reckless endgame really is to shut down the government.

Not to pass up other opportunities for extortion, Republicans are also threatening to link the fate of the Affordable Care Act to an upcoming vote to raise the debt ceiling, a perennial favorite for congressional mischief-making. Failure to raise the limit would lead to default, which would quite possibly wreak havoc on both Wall Street and Main Street.

All this for a law that tries to rectify a few major flaws in health care. True, the Affordable Care Act is not particularly easy to like. It is long, unwieldy and, in parts, nearly incomprehensible. It doesn’t lend itself to sound bites. Its complexity, however, largely reflects the complexity of a health system, or nonsystem, that defies quick and easy solutions. By expanding insurance coverage and subsidizing premiums for vulnerable groups, the Affordable Care Act at least offers a bandage for the uninsured, whose numbers are rising in some states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, according to new Census figures released this week. Apparently the House speaker is more interested in catering to his Tea Party than in addressing the health, economic and moral consequences of having millions of people uninsured.