Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Oversight subcommittee, and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) are upset that the state health insurance exchange program under Obamacare asks applicants if they would like to register to vote. The question is posed towards the end of the application, amidst questions determining applicant eligibility. Rep. Boustany and Sen. Cornyn claim that the "position of the question could lead some to think voter registration is somehow tied to subsidy eligibility." In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Boustany goes on to say that while the law requires government agencies to gather much personal information about Americans’ personal lives, "it does not give your department an interest in whether individual Americans choose vote."
Their argument is unclear and unfounded and has succeeded only in highlighting a public perception that the GOP supports voter suppression. Additionally, it provides no clear alternative to Obamacare.
It appears Boustany’s staff was out to lunch when he drafted and sent this letter, because he seems to have forgotten about the Voter Registration Act of 1993, which states that when the federal government provides any program that offers public assistance, they must include "guidance for use and distribution of voter registration forms in connection with applications for service."
Did you hear that? That was the sound of me slapping my forehead so hard that you heard it from your living room.
The GOP has challenged Obamacare since the 2008 campaign, resentful of the massive expansion of entitlements and of the fact that Obama (and Romney …) supports it. The 2012 Repeal and Replace campaign focused on the constitutionality of the individual mandate and took the Act all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was upheld as being within Congress’s authority to tax. The GOP has since vowed to continue to fight Obamacare, but is yet to outline a clear plan for replacing it. Perhaps Rep. Boutany, who seems to understand the issue so well, can help them hash out a comprehensive plan.
The left has also pounced on Boutany’s criticism as yet another example of Republicans supporting voter suppression. Controversy surrounding GOP-led suppression in Arizona and Florida during the 2012 election brought suppression back on the national consciousness. Citing an MIT study, Paul Gregory from Forbes claims that while anecdotes about voter suppression do exist, the overall election was actually faster and fairer than in 2008. Whatever the truth, many remain convinced that the GOP participates in voter suppression and Boutany’s misguided attack on Obamacare won't help his party.
Here’s the thing: whatever your stance on big government, or Obamacare, or voter suppression, none of those arguments are relevant. The Dept. of Health and Human Services included the voter registration question in simple compliance with a 20-year-old law, which means opponents of its inclusion have exactly two arguments: 1. The law should be changed; or 2. The physical placement of the question is misleading and it should be moved, although still included, in the application. Boutany makes neither argument and succeeds only in hurting his own credibility and offering yet another criticism of Obamacare without proposing a better alternative.