published Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Freeman: The tea party gamble: Shutdown was loss for all

Bill Freeman

If there’s one thing I learned this week while watching Congress finally hammer out a deal to end the government shutdown and raise the government’s credit limit, it’s this: Those folks in the Tea Party have forgotten the very sound advice given by the great Kenny Rogers in his song “The Gambler.”

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em

Know when to fold ‘em

Know when to walk away

Know when to run

The Tea Party never held the right cards to win this particular battle — President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid were never going to allow the Tea Party to defund the Affordable Care Act as a reward for them having shut down the government and held the nation hostage to a possible debt default.

All seven of Tennessee’s Republican congressmen voted against ending their government shutdownand against paying our country’s bills, but no amount of high-sounding rhetoric from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was going to alter the reality that Harry Reid was not going to give in to the Tea Party’s ransom demands, and President Obama was never going to sign legislation designed to kill the Affordable Care Act.

The Tea Party staked out an extreme all-or-nothing position, and got nothing.

There’s a reason for that.

Try a simple experiment some time — have someone put their hand up, palm toward you, and then put your hand against theirs and push. Their natural response will be to push back.

So it is in business and political negotiations between rivals — when one side stakes out an extreme position, the other side digs in. Positions harden. People on both sides refuse to even consider modest proposals from the other side that might actually be good ideas.

I believe the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — will turn out to be a good thing for the American economy and the American people. As an entrepreneur and investor, I see the value that comes from having a workforce that is healthy, and is able to deal financially with medical situations as they arise.

But as an entrepreneur, I also know that new products and services, new businesses, never get launched without problems arising — and opponents will always look for those opportunities to attack. And so it has gone with Obamacare — there are problems with the website, and the opposition is pointing at the glitches and saying, “See! It’s a disaster!”

But it’s not a disaster. The exchanges are just one part of the Affordable Care Act. Many other parts of the law have already been implemented – allowing people to stay on their parents’ health plan to the age of 26, and barring insurers from refusing to cover people with pre-existing conditions, for example — and those parts of the law are both working well and popular.

Had Republicans not followed Ted Cruz’s doomed government shutdown plan to defund Obamcare, but instead started the entire discussion by suggesting sensible changes that might improve Obamacare, the last two weeks might have played out very differently. Many sensible people see the problem with requiring people to buy insurance on an exchange that doesn’t work, and may have supported delaying that requirement until the glitches were solved.

But not with the Tea Party demanding to just blow the whole thing up.

And by all accounts most members of Congress think the ACA’s tax on medical devices — part of the funding for Obamacare — should be reduced or eliminated because of its effect on jobs. Yet the final deal left that tax in place.

Why? Because Tea Party Republicans were only for eliminating that tax if it was part of their overall strategy to destroy Obamacare.

President Obama was correct in his remarks on Thursday — the way to settle big debates is through elections. That’s when politicians — Democrats, Republicans and Tea Party — can run on issues like improving Obamacare, or repealing it.

Between elections, politicians of both parties have a responsibility to avoid extremist positions and to work together for the good of the country. Thankfully, this week, a few sensible Republicans finally decided to work with Democrats and force the Tea Party to fold.

Bill Freeman is the former treasurer of the Tennessee Democratic Party, and serves as Chairman of Freeman Webb, Inc., a real estate investment, management and brokerage company based in Nashville, which he co-founded in 1979.

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