John Boehner spoke to House Republicans today about the growing demands within the party for a government shutdown to force the defunding of Obamacare. National Review’s Jonathan Strong — who is well sourced among the GOP caucus — passes along the key detail:
In the meeting, Boehner didn’t reject the possibility of making the next appropriations bill an all-or-nothing fight over Obamacare funding, and in a press conference afterwards he insisted “no decisions have been made.”
According to Strong, Boehner told Republicans that the GOP already has a strategy, vowing “a series of well-placed, targeted strikes that will ultimately dissolve the Obamacare coalition and topple this trainwreck of a law.” Boehner seems to be leaning against a confrontation over defunding, but wants Republicans to think it at least remains a possibility.
Indeed, one GOP aide strategically leaked to Politico that Boehner doesn’t want such a showdown, and that he has privately warned Republicans “of the political dangers of shutting down the federal government.” And yet, in the very same leak, the GOP aide quickly clarified that Boehner absolutely isn’t ruling out this step by any means.
Plainly, Boehner believes a legislative strategy built on targeted anti-Obacare votes (such as on the employer and individual mandate delays) designed to make life difficult for vulnerable Dems remains the most viable way forward, and that flirting with shutdown rhetoric is a bad idea for the GOP. Remember, Boehner was there in the mid-nineties, and saw the damage Newt’s shutdown did to the party. But Boehner doesn’t want — or just can’t — rule it out. And neither does Mitch McConnell, who has refused to take a position on the push by hard right Senators to shut down the government to force a defunding of the law.
What remains striking here is that, by keeping this possibility on the table, Republican leaders continue to feed the delusion that the threat of a government shutdown gives Republicans leverage over Obamacare. In political and substantive terms, this is complete nonsense. In political terms, it’s a loser. In substantive terms, a government shutdown would not stop Obamacare funding in any case. GOP leaders know this, but continue to keep the possibility alive, anyway.
In this sense, the debate over Obamacare defunding is similar to the debate over the debt limit. Boehner has already admitted that Republicans will agree to raise the debt limit in the end, because default would threaten to damage the economy. Yet Boehner continues to insist Republicans will demand spending cuts in return for raising it, even though Boehner has already confirmed that outcome is inevitable — in effect feeding the delusion that the debt limit, too, gives Republicans leverage.
The other day, GOP Senator Tom Coburn, an undisputed “fiscal conservative” who has come out against GOP shutdown threats, said this:
“The worst thing is being dishonest with your base about what you can accomplish, ginning everybody up and then creating disappointment. It’s a terribly dangerous and not successful strategy.”
That’s true. And by keeping the notion alive that an epic confrontation could still force the defunding of Obamacare, GOP leaders are, in effect, keeping that dishonesty going. A handful of Republican Senators have had the courage to step forward and call out all of this BS for what it is. The only question is whether the continued flirtation with it by GOP leaders will force more Republican Senators to break with these tactics.