Why a Defund-ObamaCare Strategy Would Succeed
We are less than one and a half weeks from the Showdown at the CR (Continuing Resolution) Corral, and establishment politicians, of both parties, are panicking. The latest turn of the screw came last week, when opposition from 43 apparently non-establishment Republicans forced Speaker Boehner to cancel a vote on a CR because that CR would have continued to fund Obamacare.
Fox News Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume concisely captured one source of GOP panic over the weekend, on Fox News Sunday:
[T]he axiom in Washington that when the government shuts down, it doesn't matter who causes it, Republicans get blamed, is still in effect. This is a very risky proposition.
So it would seem, as pundits -- again, of both parties -- agree that President Obama and the Democrats not only would accept, but actually would welcome a so-called government shutdown -- hoping to ride the public's anticipated anger all the way to a takeover of the House in 2014:
I think [President Obama's] gamble is to take back the House in 2014, which is why I think he may want a shutdown, [Wall Street Journal editorial page editor Paul] Gigot said on ABC's This Week panel. Because that's the way he can blame it on the Republicans, blame any economic fallout on the House Republicans, and say, 'You've got to give me the majority for the next two years.'
Personally, I think the pundit doth protest too much -- certainly, some establishment Republicans, such as David Brooks, would love to see Republicans lose the House in order to stick it to the Tea Party, and "save" the GOP from Tea Party champions such as Ted Cruz, whom Brooks obviously holds in contempt (emphasis mine):
And Ted Cruz, the senator from Canada through Texas, is basically not a legislator in the normal sense, doesn't have an idea that he's going to Congress to create coalitions, make alliances, and he is going to pass a lot of legislation. He's going in more as a media protest person.
And a lot of the House Republicans are in the same mode. They're not normal members of Congress. They're not legislators. They want to stop things. And so they're just being -- they just want to obstruct.
Well, this may surprise you, Mr. Brooks, but some legislation should be obstructed. And if I may digress, I wonder if anyone besides me was disgusted by Brooks's reference to Cruz as "the senator from Canada through Texas."
And who knew that the reason one runs for Congress is "to create coalitions" and "make alliances"?
But the major problem with Brooks and his ilk is less what he says than that legislators -- Boehner, Cantor, Ryan, McConnell -- listen to them, recoiling from critical New York Times and Washington Post editorials as if they were printed on kryptonite.
Or to put it another way, the problem with establishment Republicans is that they care what establishment Democrats think of them. Which, in turn, causes them to waste enormous amounts of time and effort "creating coalitions" and "making alliances" with Democrats instead of doing what they should be doing: standing -- and strategizing -- with their fellow Republicans.
I would suggest that time spent trying to sway the 43 House Republicans, who, so far, show no sign of surrendering -- which is exactly how voting with Boehner, Cantor, et al. would be read -- would be better spent working with them to develop a strategy to deal with the Democrats' tactics if a "government shutdown" does indeed occur. These tactics will be easy to predict -- and to counter.
First, there so far has been only one government shutdown, the one that occurred in 1995. One thus wonders how the notion that Republicans will be blamed for a future shutdown, regardless of who actually is responsible, becomes an "axiom" based on a single example.
The "axiom" becomes even more puzzling when one notes important differences between the 1995 shutdown and a potential 2013 shutdown. In the '95 shutdown, congressional Republicans fought for a budget that cut funding in numerous areas, to "reduce spending" and "make government smaller."
The current controversy could not be more different. In 1995, Republicans were pushing to cut spending and to spread the cuts among numerous programs and departments, each with a constituency that would be affected by the cuts. In 2013, Republicans are promising not to cut most, many, or even some departments, but to fund every department, every program, except ObamaCare, a single program that most Americans oppose and which, because it has yet fully to take effect, has no dependent constituency.
The arena in which the battle of ideas will be fought has also changed. In 1995, the so-called mainstream media (MSM) still dominated news coverage. But today, we have the internet, independent bloggers, and last, but certainly not least, Fox News, while Newsweek Magazine, publisher of the infamous "Gingrich Who Stole Christmas" cover, is no longer around. Not to minimize the MSM's still formidable power to influence public opinion, but Republicans will not have nearly the problem getting their message out in 2013 that they had in 1995.
Nor were there polls showing overwhelming opposition to raising the debt ceiling, even if it means shutting the government down. And in 1995, who could have imagined that (emphasis mine) "55 percent of Americans say they do not support raising the debt ceiling even if it causes the U.S. to default on its debt"?
And finally, there is President Obama himself. Beyond Ezra Klein, Andrew Sullivan, MSNBC talking heads, and a few other usual suspects, we are well past the point where anyone, at least in America, takes Obama seriously or listens to him.
Putting all of the above together, the strategy should be obvious: when President Obama demagogues Republicans for "shutting down the government," Republicans should tell the pundits and the public, at every opportunity, that their CR does, in fact, fund the entire federal government, except ObamaCare.
If Obama threatens to default on the federal debt, the House should immediately pass and send to the Senate a bill appropriating the funds to pay the debt and no more. And if the Senate refuses to pass it or the president refuses to sign it, Republicans should demand that Harry Reid and/or Barack Obama explain why. If the president lays off, say, thousands of postal workers, the House should immediately appropriate the funds to hire them back, and if the Senate refuses...well, you get the idea. Whatever Obama threatens to "shut down," immediately appropriate the funds to prevent the "shutdown." Except ObamaCare.
And finally, establishment Republicans need to ask themselves this question: if their worst nightmare happens and the federal government does indeed shut down, do they really expect the shutdown to continue all the way until Election Day, November 4, 2014, more than a year from now? I predict two months -- three, tops -- before someone blinks.
What do you say we let the Democrats blink this time?