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Kanter: Obamacare is the result of a grand bargain

Published August 3, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

"The dumbest idea I've ever heard" is how Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., described it. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called the idea the kind of "shenanigans" that Americans are tired of. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner and Utah's Orrin Hatch have refused to endorse the plan. The Tribune calls it "farcical."

They are all referring to Mike Lee's latest tactic in his ongoing attempt to derail Obamacare by threatening a federal government shutdown if Congress doesn't defund Obamacare's individual mandate. What Lee views as heroic and noble is seen by many of his fellow Republican senators, and many of his constituents, as extremist, unpragmatic and disrespectful of the legislative and constitutional process.

Lee's tactic is radical, even for this Congress, and his fellow Republicans deserve credit for acknowledging it as such.

But there is a far simpler problem with Lee's showmanship — it won't work because it fails to take into account the underlying compromise that was at the heart of the Obamacare legislation.

In calling for a government shutdown over the individual mandate, Lee has dropped his opposition to the pieces of Obamacare that have already taken effect. As such, Lee would retain Obamacare's elimination of pre-existing conditions, the requirement that insurance companies retain children up to age 26 on their parents' policies, and the elimination of the so-called "lifetime cap."

Obamacare, however, was the result of a "grand bargain" made among the administration, Congress and the insurance industry, classically using various "carrots" and "sticks." From Congress' standpoint, the bargain included a carrot — the individual mandate. By requiring everyone to acquire insurance, the insurance companies wouldn't be stuck with just the sickest among us. But with that carrot came some sticks — most notably, those items listed above which are already tremendously popular: elimination of pre-existing conditions, the increased age limitation, and elimination of the lifetime cap.

Yet Lee fails to address why insurance companies would continue to accept the sticks while their carrot is simply taken away.

Despite the fact that Obamacare is now the law of the land, it is apparent that Lee just can't abide the bargain contained in the plan, and this speaks to Lee's approach to governing: a lack of respect for deliberation and its results, and the refusal to abide by a democratic process of governing that is often built on compromise.

Lee is a smart lawyer, the son of a United States solicitor general, and is well-versed in the Constitution. Unfortunately, in this case he seems to have fallen prey to an extreme ideological soundbite over the logic in which he has been classically trained. Sadly, in so many other areas, his actions also defy the application of his training.

For example, Lee calls for a balanced budget amendment so that the government will operate like an American family, yet most American families live from year to year with mortgage and credit card debt.

Lee calls for personal responsibility, yet accepted a short sale of his Alpine home, resulting in a $400,000 loss to J.P. Morgan Chase and a windfall to Lee and his family.

Lee calls for judicial restraint and rule of law, yet refuses to confirm judicial nominees because he alone believes that there is no urgency to fill judicial vacancies in a backlogged court system.

And now this — a call to shut down the government if he doesn't get his way. It isn't always clear whom Lee is speaking for, but with each new action or pronouncement, it's becoming clearer that he is not speaking for, or standing with, the moderate majority of Utahns.

Josh Kanter is the Founder of the Alliance for a Better UTAH (http://www.betterutah.org). He lives in Sandy.