Here is how far apart two factions of the Republican Party are on the possibility of a government shutdown this October over the issue of defunding the Affordable Care Act.
One side has dubbed the other “The Surrender Caucus” — the ones who have given up hope on defunding and repealing the law.
If that’s the case, they’re happy to “surrender.” The other side, they say, doesn’t have a plan, can’t get “anything off the runway,” and is playing with fire to boost enthusiasm and fundraising.
“Dr. Coburn applauds and shares their desire to dismantle the health care law, but the idea has zero chance of getting off the runway,” said an aide to Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who has been one of the main conservative opponents of the strategy.
“We’re better off highlighting the president’s desire to violate spending levels he agreed to.”
But most Republicans acknowledge that this effort is, so far, a small GOP operation led by the “wacko bird” conservative firebrand coalition of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) — along with Sen. Marco Rubio, who continues to move right after his role in helping to pass the Senate’s immigration bill.
They are backed by conservative organisations like Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks.
One of those groups, Heritage, is ramping up pressure by hosting town halls this month in nine U.S. cities — and Cruz will make an appearance in Dallas. In total, 12 Republican senators have signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, saying they will not vote to advance any continuing-resolution bill that provides funding for the health-care law.
“The important thing is that we spend the next two months talking to people about why we need to defund Obamacare,” said Dan Holler, the communications director at Heritage Action. “If we do it right, what you do on Oct. 1” after a possible shutdown is worried about then.
There are two problems “The Surrender Caucus” sees with this strategy. The first, and most obvious, is that the politics of a shutdown aren’t great for the GOP. Polling is clear — Republicans are not viewed favourably by the majority of Americans, and they’d likely be blamed in the case of a shutdown.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll released last week, 56% say the GOP is “too inflexible.” By a 3-to-1 margin, people are more likely to say Republicans are “too partisan” (67%) than “unifying” (22%).
The second, and less obvious, is that stripping the appropriations bill of funding for Obamacare might not solve Republicans’ problems. That was the argument advanced by the Washington Examiner conservative columnist Byron York last week. The difference, he wrote, comes in how Obamacare is primarily funded:
The far bigger portions of the program, including the billions and billions of dollars in subsidies that will start going to Americans on Jan. 1, are mandatory spending, an entitlement funded by an automatic appropriation which is written into law and runs without further congressional action. To change that, Congress would have to change Obamacare.
And to change Obamacare in that fashion would require 67 votes. Even Cruz has admitted that his effort doesn’t have the 41 votes in the Senate right now that would be required for a filibuster of the CR bill.
But even though some of the party’s most conservative have come out in vocal opposition — and the number of senators signing the letter to Reid have dwindled from 17 to 12 — advocates of the plan to defund Obamacare believe that a long, hot five-week stretch at home will build pressure on the holdouts.
They point to the Tea Party-affilitated town halls that have popped up
since the beginning of President Obama’s time in office, which helped shift what was then an ongoing debate over how to reshape the nation’s health care laws.
“There are a lot of folks who already seem to know how this is going to play out,” Holler said. “But we know when Congress goes back home, their constituents are going to say, ‘Hey, why aren’t you fighting?’ … There’s a lot of momentum building for this approach.”
But heading into Congress’ break, even the most conservative aren’t latching on. In a scathing column on Friday, Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer ripped Cruz and Lee as “nuts.”
Those who fancy themselves tea party patriots fighting a sold-out cocktail-swilling establishment are demanding yet another cliff dive as a show of principle and manliness.
But there’s no principle at stake here. This is about tactics. If I thought this would work, I would support it. But I don’t fancy suicide. It has a tendency to be fatal.
This is why, as Krauthammer points out, Obama is practically “goading Republicans into trying” their shutdown tactic. Democrats, meanwhile, are dumbfounded. They point to GOP leadership for what it now views as a problem, saying it has given too much free reign to the young Cruz and Lee.
“They can’t keep the wacko birds in the looney bin,” said one senior Democratic Party official.
Thus far, neither Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell nor House Speaker John Boehner has ruled out including a measure to defund Obamacare in any potential continuing resolution bill. Further complicating itsems include the fact that McConnell is now facing a primary challenger in a tough 2014 election bid that will serve, in part, as a referendum on his conservative credentials.
It also means that this will likely drag on as long as Cruz and Lee want to keep talking it up.
“McConnell has been totally silent on this. Even Boehner has at least signaled that he’s against the Tea Party path to shutting down the government,” said one Senate Democratic aide.
“McConnell’s lack of ‘profile in courage’ is giving the Rubio/Lee/Cruz faction a reason to believe that their theatre on this is worthy of attention, when in fact it’s just so obviously a distraction that has no chance of succeeding.”
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