NOW that we've ended the two-week-old government shutdown and avoided the calamity of a default on our sovereign debt obligations, political pundits are debating who won and who lost. The better question is, "What should Republicans do next?"
It's charitable to say that Republicans "didn't win" this battle, as House Speaker John Boehner conceded. Those who insisted Obamacare must be defunded ended up with only a token concession from Democrats: a requirement that the secretary of health and human services "certify" that those receiving the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's government subsidies to purchase health insurance are actually eligible for them.
But did Republican tactics permanently compromise their ability to capitalize on the deeply flawed rollout of Obamacare, and what many analysts (myself included) believe will be its deleterious impacts on the U.S. health care system?
Not necessarily. Republicans can still use Obamacare's failings to their advantage, but it will require a disciplined, realistic approach. And it means recognizing the impossibility of large-scale changes to the law while Barack Obama is president.
First, last week's agreement to reopen the federal government and raise the debt limit means we will find ourselves back in this situation again early next year. The temptation among some conservatives — particularly those who fought to defund Obamacare —will be to again make extravagant demands of Democrats in exchange for either keeping the government open or raising the debt ceiling again.
The tactic didn't work this time, and it won't work next time, either.
President Obama and Senate Democrats have made it clear that they are not only unwilling to compromise on broader Republican demands to delay or defund the law, but also unwilling to budge on more limited changes, such as delaying implementation of the individual mandate or putting off some of the tax increases that help to fund Obamacare.
Republicans would be wise to completely decouple the debt-ceiling and government-funding issues from their efforts to alter or eliminate Obamacare.
Second, the best way for people to see how bad the health care law will be is, in many respects, to get out of the way. Two of the Obama administration's most prominent (and politically popular) promises about the law — that it would reduce health insurance premiums and that people who like their coverage can keep it — will continue to go unfulfilled.