Obamacare could sink the Republican Party for reasons that have nothing to do with health or spending. PHOTO: Reuters
There is a major Obamacare fight happening in Washington right now with far-reaching consequences. No, not the whole Ted Cruz non-filibuster, that’s over, never had the power to stop the bill from progressing, and has mostly to do with Cruz’s presidential ambitions. It’s not the larger battle about the House letting the government shut down if Obamacare is not defunded. That does have major consequences, because the government does a lot, and preventing it from paying the bills even for a week can have huge consequences.
No this is a much subtler fight with big political consequences, and it revolves around this question:
“Would you like to register to vote?”
Republicans and Democrats are dueling behind the scenes over whether government employees will be required to offer voter registration to people signing up for health insurance under the health exchanges set up under Obamacare.
Why would Obamacare include such a provision and why do Republicans want to stop it? Under the 1993 “Motor Voter” law, government agencies that provide a public service (as opposed to, say, the E.P.A. which doesn’t interface with citizens) must offer voter registration services. That’s why when you get your license at the DMV, you are also offered the chance to register to vote.
Republicans don’t like this because voter turnout is bad for Republicans. The people most likely to vote (older demographics, richer people) tend to lean Republican, while historically low turnout demographics (young people, minorities) go strongly for Democrats. Those democrat-leaning groups are also less likely to have health insurance.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which administers Obamacare, is deliberating whether they want to stand up to Republican opposition. The GOP is claiming that because the Obamacare health exchanges are for private insurers, it is not a government service that would apply under the Motor Voter law, so there is a legal argument with some merit. Still, let’s not have any illusions why this matters to both parties: Obamacare could swing the electorate toward the Democrats for reasons that have nothing to do with health, the popularity of the law, or Obama.