Remember When Republicans Hated 'Uncertainty'?

Christopher Flavelle writes editorials on health care, energy and environment for Bloomberg View. He was a senior policy analyst for Bloomberg Government and chief speechwriter for the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
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A funny thing happened on the way to Obamacare: Republicans stopped warning about economic uncertainty and started embracing it.

Here's House Speaker John Boehner way back in January 2011:

There's so much uncertainty about what all the rules are, what all the costs are, that employers are scared to death to bring new employees on because they know there's going to be more costs on the health care side and they can't judge with the information we have today what exactly that's going to be.

And here's Eric Cantor in a November 2010 letter to his House colleagues after they won a majority in that year's elections:

Job creators across this country have made clear that resolving policy uncertainty in Washington and reducing the costs of government rules, regulations, statutes, and barriers to trade are some of the most effective things that a Republican controlled House can do to lay the groundwork for economic recovery and job creation.

It's easy to point out, perhaps while snickering, that by opposing Obamacare over the last two years, Republicans had only been adding to the uncertainty facing employers. But there was a reasonable chance Republicans would win the 2012 presidential election or a Supreme Court decision that would have led to the law's unraveling.

In other words, over the last two years, Obamacare was still a live debate and there was an amount of necessary uncertainty that Republicans could legitimately inject into the conversation in pursuit of their policy objectives. Sure, the message was a little inconsistent. But it wasn't crazy.

Fast forward to the present: House Republicans, having failed to defeat Obamacare, are now proposing delaying its implementation until January 2015. If they don't get their way, they'll either refuse to fund the entire government or refuse to raise the debt ceiling -- pushing the country toward defaulting on its debts.

Whatever you think of this strategy and its objectives, it's worth recognizing how far the Obamacare debate has pulled the Republican Party. Their initial argument wasn't bad: Even supporters of the health-care law could appreciate the challenge of being a business owner and not knowing what your health-care costs or commitments will be a year from now.

It may not have been a persuasive argument; uncertainty is a fact of life, and a letting the wildly inefficient and unfair health-care market fester wasn't a great recipe for stability.

Moreover, stability isn't the only goal of government, or even necessarily its highest goal. But at least the argument made sense: Uncertainty, all else being equal, is bad for business.

Now, by maintaining their fight against the law after the odds of defeating it have dwindled to near zero, Republicans are actively embracing greater uncertainty for businesses, most of which are desperately planning for a law that's about to take effect. Republicans' goal now isn't really stopping the law; instead, their goal is to cripple it by hamstringing the administration and making the uncertainty that's an inevitable part of the law's implementation even worse.

And that's before considering the possibility of a government default, with consequences for borrowers -- the people Republicans used to call job creators -- that nobody can predict.

You don't have to oppose Obamacare to worry that uncertainty might be bad for business. The problem is that Republicans themselves seem to have stopped worrying about it. So what happens next? It's all very uncertain.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Christopher Flavelle at cflavelle@bloomberg.net