Shutdown Report: How to Play Chicken and Lose

AP Images/J. Scott Applewhite

Republicans are likely to incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts. This routine has become an annual ritual, and in the past President Barack Obama has been the first one to cave. The 2011 Budget Control Act, which includes the automatic sequester, is one bitter fruit of the president’s past failure to hang tough in the face of Republican extremist demands.

But this time is different.

The Tea Party Republicans, who dominate the GOP House Caucus, are demanding that President Obama de-fund the Affordable Care Act in exchange for their willingness to fund ordinary government spending in the new fiscal year, which begins October 1. But they picked the wrong demand. In the past, Obama was willing to make deep cuts in federal spending in order to get a budget deal with Republicans. The Affordable Care Act, however, is a nonnegotiable for the president. It’s his personal crown jewel, the centerpiece of his legacy. For Tea Party Republicans, however, Obamacare is evil itself, and opposition to it is a loyalty test.

Moreover, the president has told Democrats in both the House and Senate caucuses that he has no intention of negotiating over the debt ceiling. If the Republicans want to play cute with America’s full faith and credit, they will bear the political responsibility for the consequences.

Happily, the test over the shutdown comes first. We don’t need a vote to extend the debt ceiling until mid-October. If the Republicans gamble and lose big on the shutdown, they may well back off the debt-ceiling threat.

Another nice break for Democrats: In the past, voters’ eyes have glazed over when it came to budget details, and much of the mainstream press has played budget standoffs as “partisan bickering,” as if it were the equal responsibility of both parties. Equal blame is a mantra promoted by such Wall Street groups as “Fix the Debt.”

This time, however, the press is reporting on the sheer extremism of the GOP. Polls suggest that in the case of a government shutdown, or worse, a debt default, Republicans would reap most of the blame. A CNN poll released last week found that 51 percent of people would blame Republicans for a shutdown, while 33 percent would blame President Obama. Twelve percent would blame both parties. 

Ordinarily, Obama might offer other cuts in order to prevent a shutdown, but other cuts won’t do it this time; the Tea Party wants the scalp of ObamaCare. So a president who is ordinarily reluctant to hang tough may well let the Republicans shut down the government—and let them bear the responsibility. It worked for Bill Clinton in 1996 when Gingrich shut down the government and his Republicans took the fall.

Another nice break for the Democrats is that the Republicans are split several ways. The relative realists, including many GOP senators and the House Republican leadership, grasp just how much damage a shutdown or a debt default would do to their party. It would display to voters once and for all the sheer nuttiness of the Tea Party faction that now controls the House. Going into an election year, this sort of debacle could help the Democrats take back majority control in 2014.

But House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, nobody’s idea of political moderates, have failed utterly in their efforts to persuade the Tea Party Republicans of their folly—setting the stage for a donnybrook.

The GOP is also split between the congressional Tea Party and several conservative Republican governors who actually like Obamacare. Astoundingly, despite the right-wing animus toward anything connected to the Affordable Care Act, conservative governors in key states have accepted the provision in Obamacare to expand Medicaid mostly at the federal government’s expense.

These GOP turncoats include Rick Scott in Florida, Jan Brewer in Arizona, Ohio's John Kasich, and Michigan's Rick Snyder. Why the reversal? These are swing states, and the Medicaid expansion would reach well into the working middle class—people who are losing their health coverage. Medicaid is popular. Expanding Medicaid is not just sensible policy; it’s good politics.

So the Tea Party is on a collision course with both the congressional leadership and with Republican governors in several key states.

All of this opens up new possibilities for 2014. There are only about 25 contestable House seats thanks to gerrymandering. But if Democrats can pick up most of these, they can take back the House. It would take something big for that to happen, but shutting down the government and playing chicken with a debt default—that’s big.

It is said that most Tea Party Republicans don’t mind suicidal legislative politics because their own seats are safe. On the other hand, they don’t want to wake up in January 2015 as part of the House minority.

There’s only one glitch in this happy scenario. If Republicans do force a government shutdown, at some point they will have to back down and allow the government to reopen. And at that point, there would be pressure on President Obama to give them some cover by offering other cuts. Not Obamacare, of course—just minor stuff like Social Security, Medicare, education, food stamps, Head Start, and the rest.

But that’s a depressing column for another day, and maybe Obama will even enjoy the benefits of toughness and resist further cuts. For today, let’s enjoy the box the Republicans have put themselves in.

Comments

But this time is different.

Ya, Obama doesn't have to worry about reelection.

Booch,

You silly bunny, President Obama just got re-elected running on a platform of Obamneycare.

The Republican candidate -- do you remember his name? Me neither -- ran against it. He lost.

Even with President Obama staking him the advantage of 100% of the small but significant racist vote, Romney -- that's his name! I knew it would come to me -- lost. Very very badly. So badly none of his advisors could believe it at the time, and some of them still don't seem to have recovered consciousness.

The American people have spoken.

The polls are pretty clear, too. Maybe a third of the people, many of them believing T-Party lies but some of them simply voting the self-interest of the very-well-off, oppose it. About a third support it.

The final third support it reluctantly, but really want a Canadian-style Single Payer program.

A Single Payer program is what you're going to end up with because the well-informed left want it, and anybody with Mitt Romney's ability to do high school math with a blunt pencil and any old envelope can figger out that that is how to balance the Federal budget. Obamneycare was designed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, so naturally it's a welfare program for insurance companies with a few health benefits stuck on the side. It won't last. Single Payer is on the horizon.

Health benefits and costs aside, Single Payer is also the only chance America has of ever again being looked upon as a "leader of the free world," its traditional international role. At the moment most of the world looks on America as a pitiful helpless giant being bullied by one of its children throwing a tantrum. A damn shame.

-dlj.

Why do I have this feeling that Obama will offer them big cuts to Social Security benefits if they'll leave Obamacare alone?

Well, yes: Rick Scott in Florida favored Medicaid expansion (albeit very quietly). But so what? The Florida Legislature chose not to. So Florida is not a Medicaid-expansion state, notwithstanding the impression left by this article.

We'll see. Clinton "won" a budget by surrendering poverty relief, causing significant suffering that, in whole, measured the level of American apathy. This money was simply redistributed upward. (He began likewise "reforming" Social Security as well, targeting disabled workers., but ran out of time.) The agenda all along has been that of dismantling Social Security, to redistribute those public dollars upward as well. We have to sacrifice Americans. It is the only possible way to maintain our extreme militarism while protecting the rich from the grievous burden of taxation.

When I read this article the discussion lost me in the first sentence.
"Republicans are likely to incur serious political damage in their effort to hold hostage continued funding of the government in exchange for deep spending cuts."
The basic premise is that there is a game going on where we can buy tickets, cheer and boor the umpire and the other team...It isn't, although the GOP/TP is acting like it is.
When you can strangle legitimate and honest discussion, shut down the government and not pay the bill...then claim all this is done in the name of Patriotism......A large number of people have forgotten this is not a game...
It is establishing a standard of behavior unknown in this country where the opposition is also an American citizen who has a different opinion.
This sentence says we are playing at a game. Where is the ethical, probably moral obligation to look beyond your own self interest? The Constitution allows for the rights of the minority to be respected it doesn't allow for about 20% of the country to do their imitation of a 2 yr old being pushed in a cart through the grocery, yelling, crying and throwing things while others have to look on. To take it further they are angry the entire country won't stop and give them what they want from their tantrum.
It is probably appropriate that the ultra-conservative churches are followers of this line of thinking. It has reminded me of the 12th century Catholic church where they can claim a Crusade is required. The kings saw it as an opportunity to gain wealth and power, the Church to extend it's authority the uneducated trusting 99% who listened and followed were sacrifices, fodder for the battles with the Saracens. Their trust was complete and they gained nothing.

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