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SPOTLIGHT
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Affordable Care Act, government shutdown

Published on -9/26/2013, 10:16 AM

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Sadly enough, there is no shortage of politicians in Washington these days willing to put party interests ahead of the greater good of the country. The current showdown over funding of the Affordable Care Act is yet another example of such dysfunction in Congress.

A group of Tea Party Republicans led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz still has not accepted the health care reform as law of the land and has decided to pursue a strategy that holds hostage first U.S. government funding, and then a debt ceiling increase to their desire to defund the new health law. With polls showing Americans overwhelming reject this linkage, many are wondering what's really going on behind the scenes.

Some of these tea partiers who fancy themselves as constitutional scholars must have sat on the back row or slept through high school civics class. In order to become law (or undo a previously passed law), a bill needs the approval of both houses of Congress and the president's signature. In plain terms, the Affordable Care Act will be with us at least until 2017 when President Barack Obama's term ends.

One of the most ironic aspects of this spectacle is the fact so much of the health care law comes from proposals originally advanced by Republicans. The individual mandate to buy private insurance originally was brought forward by Newt Gingrich and the Heritage Foundation in the 1990s. Most of the architecture of the bill comes from the highly successful reform implemented in Massachusetts by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in the last decade. The plan also largely follows a template developed by the Bipartisan Policy Institute, a Washington think tank co-founded by former Sen. Bob Dole.

Congressional Republicans campaigned in 2010 on a slogan to "repeal and replace" the Affordable Care Act. To date they have fulfilled half of their promise. The House has voted 40 times to repeal all or parts of the health care reform law. But three years later, that body has yet to vote on any alternative to the new law. It should be painfully obvious to everyone by now congressional Republicans don't have an alternative.

None of this seems to matter to tea party Republicans. As Dole commented to the Kansas City Star during a 2009 visit to Lawrence to discuss the health care reform effort, "Some people fight you just to fight you."

Now, in their zeal to stop the health care reform, tea partiers insist on threatening a government shutdown and default. A government shutdown would be gradually felt, but surely the anger level would mount as soldiers and Social Security recipients stop receiving checks. A government default on U.S. debt would have profound and lasting consequences for American citizens, a vast majority of whom invest in the stock market and hold government securities.

So why are these politicians following such a clearly destructive path for our country?

The answer appears to be in an internal struggle for control of the Republican Party. As two of the architects of the "defund Obamacare" strategy, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texa, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., are assumed to hold presidential aspirations. Their paths to the party's nomination presumably would be smoothed if their conservative wing of the Republican Party is in control leading into 2016. Sarah Palin has weighed in, urging fellow Republicans to put the country on "Cruz Control."

Other senior Republicans worry about what the feud is doing to their party. Recently, former top John McCain strategist Steve Schmidt urged rank-and-file Republican lawmakers to stand up to what he called this "assinity." He went on to express "deep regret" for helping to create what he called the "freak show" wing of the Republican Party with his role in bringing Palin on to the Republican ticket in 2008.

While Republicans are engrossed in this Washington sideshow, the interests of the rest of Americans -- especially those who depend on federal government services as well as millions of investors -- are relegated to the sidelines.

Alan Jilka is a businessman

and former mayor of Salina.

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