EDITORIAL: If sequester is on table, so is Obamacare

The “law of the land” is off the bargaining table, as far as Senate Democrats and the Obama administration are concerned. House Republicans have demanded changes to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, as part of any budget deal to end the partial federal government shutdown and increase the debt ceiling. Despite this month’s disastrous Internet rollout of federal-state health insurance exchanges; public outrage with higher premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses after a promise of reduced costs; and scaled back provider networks that are forcing Americans to find new doctors, Democratic leaders are adamant that no changes to Obamacare will be considered. Even proposals to delay or repeal Obamacare’s job-killing medical device tax, backed by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, have been rejected.

All because of the insistence of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and President Barack Obama that the ACA is settled law that shouldn’t be held hostage to GOP demands.

No law is ever settled. All laws are subject to legislative revision and judicial review, all the time. But for the sake of argument, let’s take the side of Sen. Reid and President Obama and agree that existing law mustn’t be changed as part of a budget or debt ceiling agreement.

Why, then, are Democrats demanding that budget sequester cuts be undone as part of any deal? Those cuts are the “law of the land,” per the Budget Control Act of 2011. Not only did Senate Democrats and President Obama sign off on that law, but the automatic, triggered spending reductions were the Obama administration’s idea, according to Bob Woodward’s book, “The Price of Politics.” Those spending cuts helped reduce the federal budget deficit — a development President Obama has lauded as a good sign for the economy and a validation of his economic policies.

Polls show a majority of Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown and debt ceiling crisis. The Obama administration and Senate Democrats see this as an opportunity to boost their chances in next year’s elections by unnecessarily extending the shutdown and imperiling the country’s borrowing authority.

But those same polls show a majority of Americans are very worried about federal spending and the growth of the national debt. The federal government has $17 trillion in debt. Its unfunded liabilities — mostly in entitlement programs — approach $100 trillion.

Republicans won control of the House in 2010 because voters wanted a check on one-party rule. The GOP has a seat at the bargaining table, whether Democrats like it or not. This should be a simple, bipartisan compromise. Fully open the federal government and raise the debt ceiling, but end or delay the medical device tax and delay Obamacare’s individual insurance mandate. Any changes to the Budget Control Act should preserve overall spending reductions while giving agencies more flexibility in imposing them.

No one in Washington has the high ground. Both sides have overplayed their hands. Make the deal.

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