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Monday, September 23, 2013

In Obamacare Defunding Fight, GOP's Best Option is to Take a Dive

"Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should."

That's the first sentence of an op-ed former GOP Senator Judd Gregg, published in the capital newspaper The Hill. The subject is using the debt ceiling to defund Obamacare and the title, "Defunders are playing Russian roulette with GOP, writes ex-senator," makes it pretty clear he thinks it's a bad idea. Not that he's a fan of the Affordable Care Act -- he's just not willing to burn the nation down to get rid of it.
An approach to the debt ceiling that says one will not vote for its extension unless ObamaCare is defunded is the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded. It is the ultimate no-win strategy.

You cannot in politics take a hostage you cannot shoot. That is what the debt ceiling is. At some point, the debt ceiling will have to be increased not because it is a good idea but because it is the only idea.

Defaulting on the nation’s obligations, which is the alternative to not increasing the debt ceiling, is not an option either substantively or politically. 
I.e., the problem with playing politics with "must pass" legislation is that it's making a threat with a doomsday machine; you can't set it off without destroying yourself in the process. The old cold war principle of mutually assured destruction applies -- if you go to war with this particular nuke, no one wins because no one survives.


And a new poll out today demonstrates this fact very well. A CNBC poll finds that most Americans oppose defunding Obamacare under any circumstances; 44% to 38%. Not a sign of great enthusiasm by any means, but not bad either -- if it were to be put up for a vote today, Obamacare would win.

But throw a government shutdown or default into the mix and the numbers change drastically.
Opposition to defunding increases sharply when the issue of shutting down the government and defaulting is included. In that case, Americans oppose defunding 59 percent to 19 percent, with 18 percent of respondents unsure. The final 4 percent is a group of people who want to defund Obamacare, but become unsure when asked if they still hold that view if it means shutting down the government.
Even Republicans oppose a shutdown or default over Obamacare, 48% to 36%. In fact, the only group that is willing to crash this Zero into the deck of the USS Obamacare are the tantrum-throwing kamikaze pilots who make up the radical right.
[A] 54 percent majority of Republicans who also identify themselves as Tea Party supporters want the new health care law defunded even if it means a government shutdown – the only demographic measured in the poll with such a majority.
That the 'baggers are solidly in favor of mass suicide gives you some idea of how inconsequential a minority they actually are. Those 54% of wingnuts who are willing to burn America down make up only a fraction of the mere 19% of the total polled who want the same. And that tiny, loudmouthed minority is managing to drive the nation to the brink of disaster and tear the GOP apart at the same time. Thanks gerrymandering, for giving such lopsided power to the enemies of reality.

All of this leaves Tea Party Senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul in little bit of a self-inflicted pickle. They've painted themselves into a corner on this thing, they pretty much have to go through with some sort of resistance -- but it's also a fight they know they simply must lose. So the question isn't "how to defund the Affordable Care Act," the question is "how to take a dive in the fight to defund the Affordable Care Act without being too obvious about it." Perhaps a talking filibuster that only delays things but changes nothing, like Rand Paul's big grandstanding speech on drones.

Of course, then it goes back to the House, where things may get a little more dicey. That's where those gerrymandered districts and the completely unrepresentative influence of the Tea Party comes into play. The Senate are state-wide elected offices and are, therefore, gerrymander-proof. House Republicans are also going to have to figure out how to take a convincing dive or pay for it in primary races. And of course, if they don't take a dive, shutting down the government or defaulting on our debt, they'll likewise pay in the general election. Unless they can figure out how to make it look like they were outmaneuvered -- or even screwed -- by Democrats, this fight doesn't seem eminently survivable for them.

It's not a task I envy and it may not be a task that they're up to, but it's a burden they've laid on their own backs and it's up to them to figure out how to get rid of it.


[photo via Wikimedia Commons]

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