Tea Party Defeats Itself

Just like with the Fiscal Cliff, the House drove us right to the brink until the Senate grabbed hold of the steering wheel, with the news that the Senate has put together a deal to end the government shut down, at least for a while.

As I predicted two months ago, there was no plan, nor any strategy for using the budget CR to defund Obamacare. Everything that happened, from the media spin, to plummeting poll numbers, to final defeat was all perfectly predictable.  There was never any reason that President Obama would negotiate.  He was never going to negotiate on defunding Obamacare. In fact, it’s obvious that he would have been perfectly willing to let us go right through the debt ceiling.  In fact, that could have worked to his advantage.  Any economic upheaval that would have been brought about by stopping the government’s ability to borrow more money could be blamed on the Republicans.  The 2016 campaign slogans write themselves.  Republicans broke the economy, Obama came in and fixed it, and Republicans broke it again.  Are you voting for the breakers or the fixers?

The only thing not predictable was how poorly the Obama administration bungled their handling of the shut down.  Between Harry Reid’s War on Cancer Kids to the administration’s fake and unnecessary closing of the nation’s monuments and other static displays that are normally opened 24/7 without being manned anyway, including the World War II Memorial; which lead to the unpleasant sight of Park Police strong arming elderly national heroes. How badly have you bungled when you pick a fight with cancer kids and World War II veterans in the same week?

Even the administration’s high fiving themselves on the fact that they were “winning” didn’t make them look too smug, since they were in fact winningConsidering that a government shutdown could only help the administration, there was really no way for them to lose, and that’s what irritates me the most; the Tea Party picked a fight in which there was no option that would have allowed them to win.

Although Ted Cruz is given most of the credit/blame for this debacle, I think a good portion of that has to go to talk radio.  Senators Cruz and Lee have appeared on Hannity multiple times talking up their “Don’t Fund it” strategy, but they never exactly explained how the strategy was going to actually achieve its goal of defunding Obamacare.  At no time did Hannity or Rush, who also was in favor of charging this windmill, question how this was supposed to succeed.  That’s a question I’ve been asking for two months and the reason I never got an answer is because there never was an answer.  Meanwhile talk radio egged it on.  On September 25th Hannity had Rand Paul on as a guest, who explained to Hannity that there was no mathematical way there would be votes to defund Obamacare.  Hannity seemed stunned and surprised that Rand couldn’t insure this strategy would work.  As recently as October 3rd, Rush was insisting that the Democrats were imploding on the issue.

The only thing that imploded was the Republican chances of winning the Senate in 2014.

The “Don’t Fund it” Option

The latest, and perhaps last, opportunity to toss a few stop sticks in front of Obamacare is coming up with the upcoming 2014 spending bill.  The Tea Party coalition wants to strip Obamacare funding from the spending bill, giving the President the option of either vetoing the bill, and effectively shutting down the government October 1st, or signing the spending bill stripped of Obamacare funding; stopping it in its tracks.  It’s not repeal, but it’s a delay, and delaying Obamacare implementation I would think is worth taking some chances.  Obamacare is bad law and worse public policy, and if there is a clear path to even delaying this bill (hopefully for some future period in which there is a change in political leadership), then that path should be followed.  Of course there are two (at least) problems with this: the House leadership and establishment Republicans want nothing to do with this idea, and it’s not clear there is an effective path to getting Obamacare defunded.

Official portrait of United States Senator Mik...

Official portrait of United States Senator Mike Lee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The “Don’t Fund it” option is a real organized effort.  It even has a website to track the progress and pledges of the various Republican Senators and Senate candidates. However, as usual, the establishment is opposed to doing anything that might make either Democrats or the Washington media mad at them.  This default bowing to possible media reaction means that they don’t want to take the chance of looking “obstructionist” in front of the national media.  Speaker Boehner is particularly uninterested in anything that would make the House Republicans look confrontational. So I cheer the Tea Party Republicans who are willing to take a risk at slowing down a bad law.

On the other hand…

The House Republicans have failed to impress in follow-through before. Last year’s fiscal cliff disaster was an eye opening view into how dysfunctional the House Republicans can be.  Before Christmas they voted against an option, what was then known as “Plan B” in order to finally agree and vote for a worse plan, as I chronicled last January.  These guys are not master strategists.  This isn’t House of Cards. It’s not even Pee Wee’s Playhouse. I’ve seen no evidence that there are wheels within wheels of planning and maneuvering to accomplish the goal of defunding Obamacare.  Both the debt ceiling fight and the fiscal cliff debacle demonstrated the amateur hour of the GOP and nothing they’ve done since last December has given me any confidence that they have learned from past mistakes and could prevail in this fight.

That’s not to say there aren’t options available to getting Obamacare defunded.  Some ideas include:

The Republicans could fund the government in multiple spending bills, isolating the Obamacare funding into a separate bill, and basically passing everything but that. Then it will be on the Democrats in the Senate to vote against the rest of the clean government funding.

They could just add an amendment to the bill holding off the implementation of Obamacare for one, two, or even three years. Since the exchanges and a lot of other moving parts aren’t ready, this might be tempting for some Senate Democrats. Obama basically did something similar by fiat.

The House Republicans could offer to fund Obama’s infrastructure and jobs bill with the funds that are not spent on Obamacare implementation.

These are just a couple of ideas that I thought of, off the top of my head.  I imagine a skilled parliamentarian would have a much longer, and perhaps more realistic list.  But in reality it seems unlikely that there is either a skilled parliamentarian or a list of options of any kind available. So I’m left to wonder,

–      Is there an actual strategy that has a possible favorable outcome?

–      Are there contingency plans depending on different possible White House or Senate Democrat responses?

–      Is there a united message and talking points for all participants to use in media contacts?

–      Has this scenario been “war-gamed?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if none of these issues had been seriously considered.  And that’s why, although I would love, love, love to throw my whole hearted support behind a “don’t fund it” plan, I would only want to do it if I thought there was at least a reasonable chance of success, rather than the Republicans ending up worse off than if they had just done nothing, and the media spinning the Republicans as both stupid and evil, like with the fiscal cliff.  And there is a possibility that the Republicans could end up worse off than if they hadn’t done anything.  If the President and Senate Democrats stand firm (and why wouldn’t they?), all the blame will be spun in the media as Republicans taking away Social Security from the elderly, paychecks from the military… you get the idea.  At that point the ball will be in the Democratic court, and they may have their own conditions to get government funded again.

Catching a few media interviews with Senator Mike Lee over the past week, I didn’t get any indication that there was a well thought of plan that has a reasonable chance of success.  Instead, it sounded more like a last gasp.

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