August 13, 2013

The conservative push for a government shutdown over Obamacare has created a dilemma for GOP leaders. They know a shutdown fight is dangerously insane for the party. But they are reluctant to say so out loud, because that will give the shutdown brigade something to organize around (that liberal squish GOP establishment is too weak-kneed to do whatever is necessary to finally defeat Obama tyranny). GOP leaders paper over this problem by claiming GOP unity behind the general goal of defunding Obamacare while refraining from the argument over tactics, but this only leaves the central tension unresolved.

No longer. In a must-read, National Review’s Robert Costa reports GOP leaders are now convinced, after privately lobbying colleagues, that they will be able to avoid a shutdown, after all. Costa gets a key quote from a top ally of the GOP leadership:

House insiders say Boehner and Cantor had talked much of their conference away from the edge…my cloakroom sources tell me they’re now confident that House Republicans will not tread into a shutdown battle with the Obama White House. GOP firebrands may threaten a shutdown and theatrically insist it remains an option, but the party’s private appetite for one, even among the right flank, is dissipating.

“The electorate expects Congress to govern,” explains pollster David Winston, a longtime adviser to the House leadership. “House Republicans are going to offer their health-care alternatives within that process.”

The idea appear to be that staging a shutdown to force the destruction of Obamacare — rather than offering an alternative — constitutes a failure to govern. But if that is so, why is not doing everything Republicans can to sabotage the law short of pushing for a shutdown, while offering no alternative, also a failure to govern?

Jonathan Chait noted recently that the problem with the GOP establishment’s discomfort with the shutdown push is that those same establishment figures believe “all other measures to attack Obamacare are fully justified,” from the withholding of bipartisan support for fixes to the law to the vow by some GOP officials not to help constituents with it. That’s true, but it may also be true that the push for a shutdown — combined with the fact that the law is gearing up this fall — is shining a harsher light on the reality of the GOP position on Obamacare, in the process rendering it less tenable. (Even some Republicans worry that the failure to craft a broader governing agenda — rather than just opposing everything — could put their House majority in peril.)

Republicans have devised two ways out of this predicament. The first is to promise yet again to roll out an alternative to Obamacare this fall, one focused on keeping the popular parts of the law, as GOP leadership pollster Winston again hints at above. But if this is met by a conservative revolt, as happened last time, it will only underscore the problem with the GOP position in the first place, i.e., that many Republicans simply don’t envision a meaningful role for government to play in fixing the health care system.

The second is to continue pledging fealty to the destruction of Obamacare as a higher calling while retreating from staging a shutdown over it, a strategy Costa has forced out into the open above. But there is no telling whether this is possible. Thanks to heightened conservative expectations for a series of Apocalyptic showdowns this fall — expectations fed by literally years of acquiescence to The Crazy by GOP leaders — we don’t know if House Republicans are capable of passing a measure temporarily funding the government even at current levels. It’s very possible a shutdown will be averted. But even if it is, the process may well be messy and destructive, possibly damaging the GOP posture on Obamacare even further, just as the law’s benefits kick in.

* WHERE’S THE CONSERVATIVE BACKLASH ON IMMIGRATION? GOP Rep. Steve King spoke at a rally late yesterday against immigration reform organized by the anti-amnesty group Numbers USA, and according to Politico’s report, there were “60 or so attendees.” The Associated Press’ Erica Werner similarly reports that there was “small turnout” and a “low-key crowd.” And the pro-immigration America’s Voice has photos of the non-event.

It wouldn’t be fair to draw any firm conclusions from one rally, but this does again raise the question: What if the big conservative backlash on immigration never materializes?

* GOP LAWMAKERS DUCKING TOWN HALL MEETINGS? Jeremy Peters reports that Republican lawmakers are conspicuously not holding as many town halls as they did during that mystical anti-Obamacare summer of 2009:

Though Republicans in recent years have harnessed the political power of these open mic, face-the-music sessions, people from both parties say they are noticing a decline in the number of meetings. They also say they are seeing Congressional offices go to greater lengths to conceal when and where the meetings take place.

This time around, Republicans risk getting targeted by both sides: by pro-immigration forces on the left and by anti-immigration forces (such as they are so far) and those who want a government shutdown to force the defunding of Obamacare.

* REPUBLICANS FAVOR A GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN? If this forthcoming poll from robo-firm Public Policy Polling is a good indication of broader sentiment, then wow:

North Carolina Republicans support shutting down the government unless Obamacare is defunded by a 57/25 margin.

I’m skeptical of this — it could be more reflective of disapproval of the law than anything else, and sentiment would likely change rapidly if a shutdown happened. But perhaps it’s another reminder that GOP base voters really have been persuaded the total destruction of Obamacare is still a real possibility.

* INFLUENTIAL REPUBLICAN RAGES AT COLLEAGUES OVER BUDGET: The Hill has an interesting look at GOP appropriations chair Hall Rogers and his struggles to get fellow Republicans to accept reality when it comes to spending cuts. As the piece notes, Rogers is particularly frustrated by newcomers to the House who have “unrealistic expectations” that Republicans will actually come up with specific cuts to match the Paul Ryan blueprint.

But again, these unrealistic expectations on spending have been fed by GOP leaders relentlessly, who have misled the base about spending on many levels for literally years now. Why is any of this surprising?

* IS HOUSE GOP MAJORITY AT RISK? Byron York reports that some Republicans worry about just that:

“The majority is at risk,” says one well-connected Republican strategist. “It should be a good year, but you need to run like you’re trying to win, and you need a good, solid strategy.”…What GOP candidates need to do is convince voters that they would do a better job than Democrats. If they don’t — if Republicans stick to being an opposition party on the attack rather than the alternative party offering an agenda — then Obama’s much-discussed dream of retaking the House in 2014 might come true, despite all the odds.

I’m doubtful, but who knows — perhaps Sabotage Governing has its perils.

* KEEP PUSHING FOR NSA SURVEILLANCE REFORM: Eugene Robinson makes a good point: The only way Obama’s promise to reform NSA surveillance will ever amount to anything meaningful is if Congress steps up and insists on it:

I’ll believe Obama is serious about reforming the intelligence court when he calls for all its interpretations of the law — without details of specific orders that would tip off terrorists — to be made public. And I’ll believe Congress is serious when it clarifies the Patriot Act and other laws to spell out that the Constitution still applies. The NSA’s capability to obliterate privacy is rampaging ahead. The law desperately needs to catch up.

Obama might not have made the promises he did if it weren’t for the Edward Snowden revelations and subsequent public outrage about them. If we want meaningful reform, it’s on us to keep pushing for it.

* AND HILLARY CLINTON CONDEMNS `DISCRIMINATION’ IN VOTING: Hillary Clinton gave a speech yesterday, which is generating some chatter today, in which she hammered the Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act. Crucially, she didn’t hesitate from putting her finger on the problem:

 “Anyone who says racial discrimination is no longer a problem in American elections must not be paying attention.”

The fact that this occurred amid rising chatter about Hillary running for president only makes this more noteworthy.

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.