Imagine Congress trying to pass an expensive and unpopular healthcare bill by twisting arms, cutting backroom deals, refusing transparency and politicians mysteriously changing their votes, only to finally pass the controversial legislation at the last hour by a paper thin margin.

This is what happened in 2003 when the “Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act” was passed by a Republican controlled Congress with the minimum 216 votes and was signed into law by President George W. Bush. It was the largest government healthcare entitlement expansion to date, estimated at about $400 billion, but has exceeded over half a trillion since. Said Bush, “These reforms are the act of a vibrant and compassionate government.”

Our “vibrant and compassionate government” acted in full force again this week, as the so-called “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act” was passed by a Democrat controlled Congress, where arms were twisted, backroom deals were cut, there was little transparency, politicians mysteriously changed their votes and the controversial legislation passed at the last hour by a paper thin margin. At a price tag of nearly a trillion dollars, the Democrats claimed it was a great moral victory while the Republicans cried foul, or as House Minority Leader John Boehner thundered, “Can you say it was done openly with transparency and accountability, without backroom deals and struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell no you can’t!”

Boehner’s right, but it was the House Minority Leader and his Republican Party that helped push through Bush’s Medicare expansion, a piece of legislation passed by cutting backroom deals behind closed doors and hidden from the people. Beginning with a national debt of a little over $5 trillion in 2000, the debt doubled in eight years, rising to over $10 trillion when Bush left office. Said Boehner in the wake of the passage of Democrats healthcare scheme Sunday night, “shame on us.” He was right to use the word “us.”

With an America still in shellshock over what went down on Capitol Hill this week, some might be asking “why is Jack Hunter wasting time in attacking the Republicans? We need to stop the Democrats!” No, we need to stop big government, period. And it would be a huge mistake to now blindly embrace the big government party of yesterday in order to stop the big government party of today. On Monday, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee immediately claimed that the healthcare vote on Sunday proved that there was a major difference between the two parties. Bull. What the healthcare vote proved was that Republicans now have an issue to run on in 2010 and 2012 and they know it. What it does not prove is that if victorious, Republicans would behave any different than when they were expanding government healthcare and doubling the national debt while Bush was in office.

Sunday’s vote will no doubt boost attendance at the tea party rallies scheduled for Tax Day, April 15th and beyond, but in the wake of the Democrats’ healthcare power grab, the tea party folks must work harder than ever to maintain their movement’s independence. Tea partiers should support individual Republicans who have continuously proven their fiscal conservatism, like Jim DeMint or Ron Paul, they should support 10th amendment efforts to nullify Obamacare, they should challenge the constitutionality of the healthcare bill, and they should keep calling their senators and congressman, holding rallies and raising hell. What they should not do is turn into blind Republican partisans, a historically self-defeating condition that so many GOP leaders, talk radio hosts and other mainstream right-wingers now seem so anxious for conservatives to return to. Tea parties and town hall protests have not been comfortable environments for Republicans like John Boehner, and rightfully so. As bad as Obama and the Democrats are, now is not the time to make big government Republicans more comfortable out of fear of the other party.

Fear of Bill Clinton and his Democratic Party led to the “Republican Revolution of ’94,” but that grassroots anger eventually subsided, settling into the same old blind partisanship which led to George W. Bush, who went on to expand government far more than Clinton. Like his predecessors, Obama’s Democratic Party will always promote big government, but only an opposition party serious about limiting federal power and spending can feasibly and finally put an end to their madness. When in power the Republicans have not been serious, and the Democrats healthcare power grab this week was simply an extension of the groundwork laid by the GOP in 2003, when Bush’s party expanded Medicare in the same shady, bullying and costly manner. Asks The American Conservative‘s Daniel McCarthy, “how long it will be before Republicans are campaigning as defenders of Obamacare, just as they campaign now as defenders of the Department of Education and other programs they once pledged to abolish?”

Indeed. And how long will it be before Obamacare becomes just like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, yet another entitlement Americans cannot afford yet Republicans will not oppose? One could say “time will tell,” but time has already told. With Obamacare, Democrats were the villains, but Republicans were not the heroes. This is a lesson conservatives cannot afford to forget.