Concessions, Recognition, and Blame

Forcing the government to shutdown, instead of fully implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), may seem like a huge misstep by the Republican party, as most Americans would rather see the implementation of the ACA instead of the government shutdown. But as I discuss below, Republicans may be able to walk away from this whole mess with wins on three fronts. First, they may be able to get concessions on the ACA. Second, they may be able to limit Obama’s ability to garner recognition for the ACA as it is now being implemented for the first time. And last, if the economy takes a hit from the shutdown, Republicans may be able to blame the implementation of the ACA for that instead.


In the images below I use simple spatial models to show how the Republican Party can gain concessions from Democrats on the ACA from attaching the ACA to the debt limit.

In the unidimensional space below, the x-axis represents the left-right spectrum with respect to universal health care. The left represents implementing the ACA and the right represents overturning it. The D represents the Democrat’s ideal point and the R represent the Republican’s ideal point. The ACA, the current status quo, is located on the D. Democrats and Republicans prefer policies closest to their own ideal points.

The Republicans obviously would like to see the status quo moved to the right. In other words, they want to overturn the ACA. However, there are no proposals that deal exclusively with the ACA that the Republicans can introduce to convince the Democrats to move it to the right, since it would be moving the policy away from the Democrat’s ideal point. By attaching the ACA to government funding, however, the Republicans may be able to coerce Democrats to make concessions.

The two dimensional policy space below is similar to the one above except I have added a government funding dimension. The Democrat’s ideal point is now moved up to Implement ACA-Extended Government Funding. The Republican’s ideal point is moved to Overturn ACA-Short Term Funding. The current status quo is Limited Funding-Implement ACA. All the points inside the blue circle represent points that Democrats prefer to the current status quo. All points inside the red circle represent points Republicans prefer to the status quo. The reddish-purple area with the two circles overlap represent points both Democrats and Republicans prefer to the status quo.

A few observations about the policy space:

(1) There are several policy proposals that the Democrats prefer that could move the ACA to the right, which would be a win for Republicans.

(2) On the other hand, according to this simple model, Republicans actually prefer the Democrat’s ideal point to the current status quo. So if the Democrats hold out long enough, they may be able to convince Republicans to fund government and maintain the SQ.

(3) The most probable outcome is agreement on a policy proposal somewhere between the Republicans and Democrat’s ideal points. So we should see some concessions on the ACA but with an extended raise in the debt ceiling.

What else do the Republicans get out of the shutdown? They get to control the news cycle so Americans are not focusing on the implementation of the ACA, which happened on October 1st. Instead Americans are now focusing on the shutdown. Obama and the Democrats will be less able to enjoy recognition for their accomplishment.

Not only can Republicans prevent Democrats from gaining recognition at the implementation of the ACA, next fall they may be able to argue that the ACA disrupted the US economy. If the shutdown does cause a slight disruption in the economy, Republicans may blame the ACA instead. Americans have short memories, and the conclusions they draw from evidence is often influenced by their party identification. So it may not be that hard for Republicans to convince their base next fall that the ACA hurt the economy, not the shutdown.

About Julie VanDusky-Allen

Julie VanDusky-Allen is at Boise State University and received her PhD in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2011. Her research focuses on institutional choice and development, political parties, the legislative process, and Latin American politics.

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