As Congress begins its summer recess there’s been some hand-wringing in Washington about whether Congressional Republicans will make good on their threat to shut down the Federal government in another game of chicken with President Obama over the Affordable Care Act this fall. Senior members of the GOP are threatening to hold up a continuing funding bill for government operations AND to hold the upcoming debt ceiling hostage unless ObamaCare is defunded. We hope that common sense will prevail, as a government shutdown would be a disaster for Republicans. So blind in their hatred for the President and his signature accomplishment, they have to be saved from themselves.
It all started last week when as many as 15 Senate Republicans, including the #2 and #3 members of the Senate GOP leadership, threatened to vote against any continuing resolution to fund government operations if there was a single penny of ObamaCare funding included — the current funding resolution expires September 30. A parallel effort began in the House as well. Talk included holding the debt ceiling bill hostage again if needed to defund ObamaCare. The extremists know this is their last chance to derail the ACA before the exchanges and subsidies go live for millions of uninsured Americans — most of whom, in a supreme bit of irony, live in the red states represented by the partisans.
House Republicans and Senate Democrats remain more than $90 billion apart on 2014 discretionary spending, with prospects for a House-Senate conference on the budget dwindling daily. Obama has issued veto threats for two spending bills already approved by the House. So both sides are already preparing for a continuing resolution to fund the government into next year, and that’s where the threat from the right comes in.
For thre record, many began to concede a shutdown just ain’t gonna happen over ObamaCare. Late last week, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) laughed out loud when Sean Hannity of Fox News asked if the GOP has the “courage” to stand tough against legislation that funds Obamacare. “Frankly, probably not,” Paul chuckled. The reality is, what they lack the votes they’ll overcompensate for with noise.
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), one of the right-wing-ringleaders, said yesterday, “The problem right now is we don’t have Republicans willing to stand up and do this. We need 41 Republicans in the Senate or 218 Republicans in the House, to stand together, to join me, to join Mike Lee, to join Marco Rubio, all of whom have said, we will not vote for a single continuing resolution that funds even a penny of ObamaCare.”
Don’t these guys get that they LOST the election? And that the last debt ceiling battle was a disaster that spiked our national credit rating and resulted in the dreaded budgetary meat-axe called the sequester?
There are some cool heads prevailing thus far, folks who remember the disaster that ensued in 1995 when then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich forced a government shutdown on President Clinton – and watched the backlash sweep him and many GOP colleagues right out of office. To the point, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today “If Republicans force us to the brink of another government shutdown for ideological reasons, the economy will suffer. I would suggest to any of my Republican colleagues that has this idea: Give a call to Newt Gingrich. He’ll return your phone calls. Ask him how it worked. It was disastrous for Newt Gingrich, the Republicans and the country.”
Senior Republicans are deriding the plan as “dumb,” “silly” and a “temper tantrum,” warning that it will fail and damage the party’s prospects in the upcoming 2014 elections. There’s more. “I think I want to challenge Obamacare on all fronts, but that’s a bridge too far for me,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Talking Points Memo (TPM), a liberal blog, on Tuesday. “As much as I want to replace Obamacare I’m not going to deny Social Security payments, funding of the military and the FBI at a time of great national security concerns. I think that’s a bridge too far.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) told TPM, “I hope we wouldn’t shut down the government, but I’d like to shut out Obamacare.” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) told TPM that “Obamacare is not working” and “needs to be fixed.” But when pressed on whether it’s worth risking a government shutdown over, he demurred: “I’m not going to get that far.”
House Deputy Whip Tom Cole (R-OK) said yesterdaythat “Shutting down the government is a suicidal political tactic. Eventually it will be reopened, but the president will not have capitulated and you will have discredited yourself and along the way you will have hurt the American people,” Cole said on MSNBC.
TPM points out that:
“Even so, the base isn’t officially giving up. A letter signed by more than 50 influential conservatives — including heavyweights like Heritage Action, Club For Growth and FreedomWorks and Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform — calls on House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) “to include language fully defunding Obamacare when they consider their upcoming legislation to fund the government.”
The divisions reflect the GOP’s catch-22 over Obamacare. After riling up their base and repeatedly promising to spare no effort to thwart the health care law, they face the wrath of conservatives for refusing to put themselves on the line in service of the cause, despite daunting political odds. Some conservative activists say they feel played by the GOP for regularly invoking Obamacare to raise money but failing to fight it when it counts. Now that the ploy seems hopeless, it frees bomb-throwers like Cruz, Rand and Rubio to pontificate further on defunding to further work the base — and will only intensify the betrayal felt by the hard-right activists.
“The chance that Democrats would go along — would give up on their signature legislative initiative of the last decade soon after having won the presidential election and gained Senate and House seats — approaches zero percent. So if Republicans stay firm in this demand, the result will be either a government shutdown or a partial shutdown combined with a debt default. Either would be highly unpopular, and each party would blame the other. The public, however, would almost certainly blame Republicans, for five reasons.
“First, Republicans are less popular than the Democrats and thus all else equal will lose partisan finger-pointing contests. Second, the executive has natural advantages over a group of legislators in a crisis atmosphere. Third, people will be naturally inclined to assume that the more anti-government party must be responsible. Fourth, some Republicans will say that government shutdowns or defaults are just what the country needs, and those quotes will affect the image of all Republicans. And fifth, the news media will surely side with the Democrats.”
I’d be lying if I didn’t say there’s a part of me that’s just dying to see the Lee/Cruz/Rubio faction push this tactic, just to be able to watch President Obama pull a Clinton on these obstructionists and crush this nonsense once and for all. I do believe the more rational governance-minded Republicans left in Congress will prevail and there won’t be a shutdown, but I’ve been overly optimistic about the Obama-haters before.
If they don’t desist, it’s going to force House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to hold his nose and cobble together a Democrat/moderate GOP coalition with Nancy Pelosi to keep the government’s doors open, which will mean the end of his speakership and more disarray in the House. That would be a great outcome in the worst partisan environment I’ve ever seen in 23 years here in DC. And argues why “establishment” Republicans like Boehner won’t let this charade go on much further.
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