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Thursday, February 10, 2011

For Republicans, a Coming Dose of Reality

Bucket of ice waterPart of the problem I have with Republicans is that they refuse to live in reality. For most, the cause is the fact that they don't have to. Former lobbyists, PAC folks, wealthy vanity campaigners, CEOs, and various and sundry political hacks, the closest many have come to hardship is finding out the club is out of topshelf scotch. They still have nightmares about that awful, awful rail booze.

But for others, there's a self-inflicted ignorance. Many of the fresh new GOP faces in Washington represent the first generation of lawmakers whose entire adult lives were spent under the spell of conservative talk radio. They were probably introduced to politics by Rush Limbaugh in the '90s and they haven't moved that dial since. If they don't live in the real world, it's because they no longer know where it is.

Regardless of the reason that reality is a strange neighborhood to them, when Republicans take a walk through it, it comes as something of a shock.


Ask any House Republican about repealing President Barack Obama's health care law, and you'll get the same fiery, self-assured talking points about tearing down what Speaker John Boehner has called a "monstrosity."

But talk to some of the 16 freshman lawmakers who have declined their government health benefits, and you'll hear a different side of the story -- about tough out-of-pocket expenses, pre-existing conditions and support for health reforms that would help those who struggle with their coverage. As they venture into the free market for health insurance, these lawmakers -- many of whom swept into office fueled by tea party anger over the health care law -- are facing monthly premiums of $1,200 and fears of double-digit rate hikes.

The experience has caused some of them to think harder about the "replace" part of the "repeal and replace" mantra the GOP has adopted regarding the health care law.

Being forced to face reality can be a bracing experience, like a bucket of cold water in the face. And, like that bucket of ice water, it can be about as welcome. So, it's not extremely surprising that many would go out of their way to create an elaborate, alternate reality where all solutions simple and the only people who don't see things that way are liars, fools, and communist stooges. Denial exists for a reason.

So, after foolishly accepting the challenge to live in reality for a little bit, these teabagger congress members are starting to see that maybe the "best healthcare system in the world" isn't so awfully great after all. In fact, it kind of blows. It's expensive, it doesn't cover a lot, and it leaves a lot of people out in the cold. So they start to think maybe when they plan to replace the healthcare law, they should consider something that looks a lot like the current healthcare law.

This sort of reality shock is about to hit all the new, ambitious GOPers, whether they turned down their Nazi gummint healthcare or not. And that's the root of John Boehner's problems -- it hasn't happened yet. But it's about to.


Faced with a revolt on the right, House Republicans scrambled Wednesday to adjust their budget strategy and come up with tens of billions of dollars in additional savings-- including a possible across-the-board cut -- to appease tea party supporters.

The day began with the once-proud House Appropriations Committee previewing what it saw as an unprecedented package of more than $40 billion in reductions from current domestic and foreign aid funding. But even as the numbers were released, conservatives at a morning caucus demanded twice the reductions. And by late in the day, the committee’s cardinals were closeted away in the Capitol, fending off talk of across-the-board cuts but also admitting they will most likely need days more to come up with an alternative.

Boehner had been talking with the White House about budget cuts, but the 'baggers seem to want to cut the Obama administration out of the loop. They want big, deep cuts, they want them now, and there's no way in hell they're ever going to get them. They may want to say, "Damn the White House, cut, cut, cut!" but they're forgetting that you can't remove the president from the process. He's got a big, fat veto pen and Republicans have nowhere near the votes to override it. They may not like it, but Barack Obama is still the president. All the founder worship and tricorner hats don't mean that Republicans now rule Washington. It was an election, not a revolution, and the GOP still only controls a fraction of the lawmaking process. Democrats control the White House and the Senate. Like it or not, we're still winning here.

What happens when all these frothing 'baggers figure out that demanding everything may mean getting almost nothing? If the sixteen who turned down federal health insurance are any indication, they may just moderate a bit. In this case, John Boehner will find his coalition a lot less fractious, but not as close to the far right as he'd like. The danger is that the phony populism will become real populism and members will start considering all the people, not just the ones with the deepest pockets. Big money donors may be an advantage, but they're not a guarantee -- you still can't literally buy votes.

Of course, this may not happen at all. Republicans have a long history of putting ideology above people and their almost religious faith in that ideology above reality. Why do you think they still cling to their stupid supply-side economics, despite the fact that it's failed over and over and over? In this case, Boehner winds up with the same rebellious House he has now and winds up becoming the next Newt Gingrich. Gridlock reigns, becomes unpopular, and Boehner becomes its face.

That's a reality and, whether House leadership likes it or not, they're going to have to face it.


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