Spend most of a week in Washington, D.C., as a group of 30 local leaders coordinated by the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance just did, talking to people involved with government in many ways — from elected officials to support staffs, lobbyists and federal agency staffers — and soon you hear the same messages, over and over.
Some are totally predictable, depending purely on party affiliation, especially when the topic is the Affordable Care Act.
Listen to Republicans, and they insist the reform law known as Obamacare is destined for disaster, a failure that will drag down the economy with miserable effects on small businesses. GOP lawmakers are convinced the only solution is to repeal the law, even as some Capitol Hill GOP staffers admit that can’t happen, suggesting the smart tactic would be to cut a percentage of funding and hope it bleeds to death.
Listen to Democrats, and they talk about how Obamacare already has had a positive impact, sweeping away the prospect of pre-existing conditions making health insurance impossible to buy, allowing young adults to stay on parents’ policies until the age of 26, and opening the path for millions of uninsured Americans to purchase health insurance and have more access to physicians.
There appears to be no middle ground, just as with most issues facing Congress. Dems tell you they’re still hopeful of an immigration reform bill by the end of 2013. Republicans scoff and suggest that it simply won’t happen, just as they won’t pass the Farm Bill and will do all they can to make big cuts in food stamps.
It’s disturbing, no matter which side you’re on. And please understand, my intent here is NOT to take sides, just to share observations.
[pullquote]There’s a political strategy that nobody wants to talk about but everyone understands.[/pullquote]
There’s a method to the madness, a political strategy that nobody wants to talk about but everyone understands. Here’s the silent message:
Republicans now have two camps in Congress.
One group, also known as the tea partiers, will stop at nothing to chop the federal budget, including the military, never compromising in pursuit of severely reducing the size of government. They don’t care about consequences for places like Colorado Springs, one of America’s most conservative cities yet potentially a victim if budget cuts dig too deeply into spending for the military and its defense contractors.
The more traditional Republicans have a different game plan. They simply want to put off passing any major legislation for the next 15 months, between now and the end of 2014. Meanwhile, they’ll focus on gaining majority control in the Senate, just as they have in the House. With six new GOP senators, they can do more to unravel Obamacare and tighten rules for entitlement programs such as eligibility for Social Security and Medicare. They also want to replenish the military — unless the tea-party faction stops them.
Of course, President Obama will be around through 2016, so his final two years could deteriorate into a stream of bigger battles with Congress marked by numerous vetoes.
That takes us to the ultimate Republican plan: to create the same trifecta (White House, Senate and House) that Democrats enjoyed after Obama was first elected in 2008, along with controlling Congress.
Can that happen for the GOP? It’s the hope of many leaders within the Colorado Springs business community. They know our local economy depends greatly on a stout federal commitment to maintaining the strongest possible defense. Many of them firmly believe that Republican control in Washington offers the best chance for the Pikes Peak region’s economy to grow and prosper in years to come.
But that equation doesn’t work if the tea-party crowd continues to undermine the mainstream Republicans’ agenda. It also doesn’t work if the GOP’s lack of unity leads to more election defeats, especially at the national level.
The outcome, not just in the 2014 election but also in 2016, very well might hinge on which side turns out to be right about Obamacare.
Forget about the moral arguments. If the Affordable Care Act achieves reality and the public views it as a success by 12 months from now, Democrats will benefit. If Obamacare stumbles out of the gate and becomes Obamacareless, Republicans will be empowered, all the way through 2016.
But what about the Colorado Springs economy if the current Shootout on Capitol Hill turns ugly, starting with a government shutdown? From a local perspective, it appears that D.C. is playing with fire — and Colorado Springs could get burned if our future depends too much on national elections and politics.
What if everyone loses, and the nation’s distrust in Congress and the White House rises to unprecedented heights?
We don’t want to get caught in that crossfire.