Get ready for a government shut-down and resulting river of news stories about it’s negative impact. Get ready for Fox News and other conservative outlets to blame it on the White House and Harry Reid and the Democrats. But the fact is: conservative House Republicans have now all but pressed the button for a shutdown with this — and many analysts are taking note that the GOP is quickly changing. Bigtime.
With a government shutdown less than three days away, the House is charging toward delaying Obamacare for one year and repealing the medical device tax in exchange for funding the government, several sources tell POLITICO.
A plan is expected to be finalized Saturday morning during a rare Saturday in session in the Capitol.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said the Senate will not accept any Obamacare-related changes to the Senate-passed government funding bill. So a House move in that direction would be a step toward a government shutdown.
The government shuts down Tuesday if Congress doesn’t pass a government-funding bill before then. Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his top lieutenants have told Democrats there could be a vote on a continuing resolution or CR on Saturday, although that timing is still tentative. Republicans have not said what will be in that package or whether Democrats would be inclined to support it.
Boehner will meet with other House GOP leaders at 11 a.m. The House Republican Conference will hold a meeting at noon in the Capitol. The House has passed a funding bill to keep government open until Dec. 15 — but to defund Obamacare. The Senate has passed a funding bill that keeps government open until Nov. 15, but funds the health care law.
As of Saturday morning, top GOP sources said the most likely scenario was that the House would pass a CR this weekend that would delay Obamacare for one year and repeal the medical device tax. That move would, almost certainly, result in a government shutdown. Republicans could avoid a shutdown by passing a short-term CR, which would allow more time for negotiations. They could also take up the Senate’s bill, which Republican leaders have said is unlikely.
A shutdown may be bad for the country, and defaulting on the debt could be devastating for the American and world economies, but boy is the fight good for the Tea Party, according to The Washington Post:
The clash in Congress over efforts to derail President Obama’s health-care law has lit up tea party groups across the country, reenergizing activists who had drifted away from the movement while intensifying the divisions tearing at the Republican Party.
The standoff, which threatens to plunge the federal government into a financial crisis, has served as a rallying cry for a cadre of conservatives, who are bombarding lawmakers with phone calls, e-mails and social media messages backing a last-ditch effort to hobble the health-care law.
It was the passage of that legislation, commonly known as Obamacare, that animated the movement when it first emerged in 2009.
“I’ve not seen this level of intensity since we fought to keep Obamacare from passing,” said JoAnn Fleming, executive director of Grassroots America, a group of conservative activists based in Tyler, Tex. “I’m getting calls from people who are not in our network, saying, ‘Can we do something?’ It’s a full-time job just trying to get rid of all my e-mails.”
But the tea party’s renewed presence also poses serious political risks for Republicans, undermining efforts to broaden the party’s appeal. The movement itself could be blamed for contributing to Washington’s dysfunction if it helps set in motion a government shutdown next week or, later in October, a national credit default.
“In the overall scheme of things, it’s largely a sideshow,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, a former top Capitol Hill aide, said of the current Obamacare debate roiling Congress. “However, it has stolen the spotlight from the president’s weaknesses and put it right on Republican infighting, and showed a lack of direction about where we want to go strategically as a party.”
Activists are warning House Speaker John Boehner that if he doesn’t tow their political line — he’s out as speaker:
Conservative activists say Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) credibility is on the line, and warn he will not serve another term as House GOP leader if he agrees to fund the Affordable Care Act along with the rest of government.
Senate Democrats, however, say Boehner will be responsible for shutting down the government if he makes any changes to the stopgap bill that the Senate passed on Friday.
“I want everyone to listen and to hear: The United States Senate has acted,” Reid said on the Senate floor. “This is the only legislation that can avert a government shutdown, and that time is ticking as we speak.”
Reid adjourned the Senate until 2 pm Monday, leaving the House to work out the government funding stalemate on its own. Reid’s staff said there are not any talks with Boehner on finding a compromise before the Oct. 1 deadline.
Brent Bozell, the chairman of ForAmerica and a prominent conservative activist, said Boehner would face calls to step down if he accepts a stopgap spending measure that does not defund or delay ObamaCare.
“He’s going to be threatened. If he chooses to side with Barack Obama and with the Democrats in order to fund ObamaCare, then he owns ObamaCare and he can’t get out of that.
“He’ll be as responsible for ObamaCare as Harry Reid,” he said.
Would a shutdown calm down GOPers so there would be less of a chance of conservative House members forcing the United States to default on its debt? The Atlantic’s Molly Ball says don’t hold your breath.
The majority of House Republicans already want to prevent a shutdown and a default. But there’s a small group that insists on defunding Obamacare as an ultimatum, and they are not likely to be placated by a little government shutdown. Many believe that the government shutdown of 1995 either didn’t hurt Republicans politically or only hurt Republicans because they gave in rather than standing firm. Some also believe that the supposedly catastrophic consequences of hitting the debt ceiling are overblown, like Representative John Fleming of Louisiana, who recently told Politico, “Technically, it’s not possible to default,” and if the debt ceiling is reached, “nothing happens.” (Confronted with economists’ predictions of large-scale catastrophe, Fleming told the New York Times, “Economists, what have they been doing? They make all sorts of predictions. Many times they’re wrong.”)
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Friday dubbed these intractable Republicans “the weird caucus.” To their opponents, they appear unreasonable, but what they really are is very, very sincere: They truly believe that, by committing to do anything to block a law they see as disastrous, they’re standing up for what’s right. That’s not going to change because the Republican Party’s poll numbers, already in the toilet, slip a little more, or because their constituents complain about closures of national parks. The Republicans who care about those things are already willing to pass government funding and debt-ceiling bills. But there aren’t 218 of them.
The idea that a shutdown will somehow convert these holdouts is a version of the “break the fever” theory that Obama espoused during his campaign: that once he was reelected, antagonistic Republicans would see which side the public was on and agree to compromise. That didn’t happen; if anything, they redoubled their efforts to thwart him, egged on by outside groups.
And egged on by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. The Atlantic’s Jack Balkin contends the media is missing the point with what’s going on with Cruz. He isn’t trying to ingratiate himself with his party — he’s trying to remake the party:
He is not a terrorist or a bomb thrower. He is a Leninist. He wants to sow discord among his erstwhile allies so that he can seize control.
Suppose you thought that the Republican coalition is fracturing, that traditional Republican leadership can no longer hold the party together, and that the leadership is too willing to capitulate to its political opponents on the left.
Suppose you are also convinced that Obamacare will be a total disaster. Once in place, constituencies will form that will make it difficult to repeal, yet it will make most ordinary Americans deeply unhappy. Obamacare will be the big-government equivalent of crystal meth: an addictive substance that destroys your health. When the public finally realizes this, it will abandon the Democrats in droves and look for an alternative.
If you think both these things are true, then what Ted Cruz is doing makes some sense. Cruz wants to take over the Republican Party. He could try to organize the Tea Party as a third party, but that is a risky proposition, and it could easily fail. Representational systems like the one we have in the United States, which lack proportional representation, are generally unkind to third parties. It’s true that the Whig Party fell apart in the early 1850s and was succeeded by the Republican Party, but since that time no third party has won a majority of either house of Congress or the presidency.
It’s not just channeling the party’s far right. It’s capturing it. And doing — rebranding. But not the kind Republican establishment members had in mind. It’s to rebrand it once and for all into the Tea Party party:
So the prudent move is to take over the existing GOP’s operations and transform it in the image of the Tea Party, with the goal of becoming the dominant party once again. That is why Cruz is attacking his fellow Republicans for being weak-kneed and insufficiently devoted to the conservative cause, rather than doing what you would think a hard-right politician should be doing — attacking liberals and Democrats. He is deliberately fracturing the Republican Party so he can take hold of the largest piece of it.
In some sense this is a repeat of the conservative movement’s playbook from 1964 on: Push moderates out of the Republican Party and make it a wholly owned subsidiary of the conservative movement. As George W. Bush would say, Mission Accomplished. The moderates are mostly gone. George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole would be RINOs today. Even Ronald Reagan would have to be sent to a re-education camp to extinguish his dangerously liberal tendencies toward raising taxes and nuclear disarmament. The “mainstream conservatives” the press talks about today are a misnomer. Mainstream conservatives aren’t moderate at all — they are very, very conservative in relation to the Republicans of days gone by. What distinguishes “mainstream” Republicans is that they are not much interested in what they see as the Tea Party’s suicide mission.
Yet another Atlantic-er, James Fallows, argues that what we’re seeing this time is NOT your typical shutdown and it has less to do with Congress than an upheaval in the Republican party between traditionalists and the radicals who could harm the entire country. He says you mustn’t lose sight of three valuable points:
**As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are — still — so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
**As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We’re used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.
This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle — the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or “opinion leaders” outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority — have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can’t recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable “compromise” the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the “dig in their heels” headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.
Cruz is already actively working to undermine Boehner. And some more traditional conservatives such as George W. Bush’s former speechwriter Michael Gerston look on what’s happening to their party with dismay. He writes in the Washington Post:
The effort to defund Obamacare, culminating in Sen. Ted Cruz’s marathon speech on the Senate floor, has been symbolic in ways its sponsors did not intend…
….It is the fullest expression (so far) of the view of leadership held by the new, anti-establishment conservative establishment: Exploit a legitimate populist cause to demand a counterproductive tactic in an insufferable tone, then use the inevitable failure to discredit opponents in an intra-party struggle. More Pickett’s charges, please. They are emotionally satisfying (and good for fundraising). And the carnage may produce new generals, who are more favorable to future Pickett’s charges.
In the process, the GOP is made to look unserious and incapable of governing. But that is beside the point. The advocates of defunding have bigger ideological fish to fry. They argue that, over the decades, Republican compromisers have been complicit in producing a federal government so overgrown that our constitutional order has collapsed beneath it. “I don’t think what Washington needs,” argues Cruz, “is more compromise.”
In this case, the evidence of GOP compromise is not the acceptance of Obamacare. It is insufficient enthusiasm for an absurd procedural maneuver. But never mind. The real target is the idea of compromise itself, along with all who deal, settle or blink.
In the middle of this unfolding Republican debate comes a timely National Affairs article by Jonathan Rauch. It is titled “Rescuing Compromise,” but it might well have been called “James Madison for Dummies.”
We are seeing that an anti-compromise ideology can make for bad politics. In our system, Obamacare will not be overturned by one house of Congress. A tea-party shutdown strategy — if implemented — would make securing the other house and the presidency less likely for Republicans. And the political energy consumed by Cruz and crew has not been available to promote incremental limits on Obamacare that might have aided GOP political prospects.
But the problems with this view run deeper. A belief that compromise is always favorable to liberalism is historically ill-informed. Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform and Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare reform were the results of bipartisan compromise. So were Clinton’s four budgets that kept federal spending below 20 percent of GDP. And addressing the long-term debt crisis — really a health entitlement crisis — will not be possible without a series of difficult political compromises on benefit restructuring and revenues.
What we’re seeing is a segment of the Republican Party now almost totally rejecting the idea of compromise or the need for consensus.
That might work in some local districts, but doesn’t bode well for the GOP as a national party — a party that would therefore reject moderates, traditional conservatives and would consider those not believing in nixing compromise political traitors.
The question is still there: exactly how is all of this helping the Republican Party ADD to its coalition?
We’re at an inflection point. The grown-ups in the party understand that this constant cycle of crisis is not only bad for the country but bad for the GOP. And it’s especially destructive to continue to pull this stunt in an effort to defund ObamaCare. As someone noted on Twitter the other day, it’s rather hard to defund ObamaCare when a guy named Obama is sitting in the White House. It just ain’t gonna happen. Even Ted Cruz understands that. But we’re wasting billions of dollars and making the country look like a banana republic, anyway, for what seems to be the sole purpose of raising Cruz’ profile ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries.
Watch for Cruz’s stock to continue to zoom in polls of Republicans.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.