Among the faults of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act -- or "Obamacare," if you prefer -- is the violence this bloated, complex, immensely controversial law has done to the orderly process of government, best accomplished by political compromise.
The president's crowning initiative, manipulated through Congress despite disapproval of a majority of Americans, was the catalyst for electing to the U.S. House of Representatives a group of angry, doctrinaire conservatives who have impeded bipartisan solutions to everything from immigration to fiscal insolvency. Along the way, this bloc of Republicans -- if that's what they really are -- continues to be a major threat to its own party's viability.
Americans once again face the prospect of their government being shut down and possibly pushed off a fiscal cliff into the unimaginable abyss of debt default, all because of unrelenting unreasonableness on health care reform. While I still don't believe this actually will happen despite the tumult, I defy anyone to say with certainty that it won't.
The House GOP majority's leadership, bludgeoned into submission by its right-wing back benchers, seems incapable of directing a sensible approach to legislating. Even if he had truly desired to do so, House Speaker John Boehner could do nothing to keep defunding of the health care act from being a condition for raising the debt limit. That bill will go to the Senate, where Democrats ultimately are expected to send back a document without the defunding language. Then the battle will be joined.
Meanwhile, the nation's media will fill the airways, electronic and printed pages with endless predictions of utter disaster. Americans, if not desensitized by having gone through this several times already, will experience another nerve-wracking week or two of trauma.
Enough already! This is a textbook case of what can occur when an inexperienced first-term president and his party's leadership in Congress ram an unpopular proposal to adoption -- and in the process give the opposition leverage to oppose nearly everything. Why Obama decided to take this on at a time of looming financial crisis -- spending time, energy and political clout to achieve it -- is a mystery. He compounded that error by letting liberals in Congress write the bill.
Right now, 48.6 million Americans lack health insurance; the new reform law proposes an expansion that would aid another 18.6 million of them. But many of the uninsured -- particularly young, healthy residents -- don't want insurance, and they resent being forced to accept it or pay a fine. Animosity to the law is rooted in general resentment against government regulating their lives -- opposition to which was a major reason for the nation's founding. The fact that the Supreme Court last year determined the reform law's forceful intrusion was a tax, and therefore constitutional, didn't soften the anger. As of early September, 53 percent of Americans disapproved of the law, the nonpartisan Pew Research Center reported recently.
This seeming withdrawal of choice cost the Democrats the House in 2010 and installed a group dedicated not only to overturning the bill but using it as leverage to oppose nearly every attempt to solve the country's problems in a bipartisan fashion.
Obama has warned that he's through trying to deal with a House majority that "is messing with me" rather than working to resolve the debt crisis. He has told Boehner and other GOP leaders that he will veto any bill containing the defunding proposal or attempts to delay the law's implementation. It doesn't seem to be an idle threat.
But what happens then? Presumably, there would be some renewed effort toward detente before the disaster becomes reality.
Moderate Republicans, who have declining influence in their party, are concerned that the GOP itself will become the victim. Clearly, blame for a government shutdown and, worse, a debt default is not conducive to winning elections.
This is the real problem with the health care act: It has produced anaphylactic shock to the American political system.
(Dan Thomasson is former editor of Scripps Howard News Service.)