August 16, 2013

The other day, I suggested there are increasing signs Republicans leaders now know that they have a major problem on their hands — the GOP’s posture on Obamacare is untenable — and are seriously grappling with it at the highest levels. I am not well sourced among top Republicans, so that was mostly speculation and tea leaf reading.

But Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei are well sourced among top Republicans. And today they weigh in with a big piece reporting that GOP elites are in full blown panic mode about the party’s drift towards a series of Apocalyptic showdowns this fall.

The most interesting bit is the profound worry about the drift towards a government shutdown over Obamacare. But I think the fundamental problem is still being overlooked. Here’s the key part:

Republicans are in jeopardy of convincing voters they simply cannot govern. Their favorable ratings are terrible and getting worse. But there is broad concern it could go from worse to an unmitigated disaster this fall. Most urgently, according to a slew of key Republicans we interviewed, conservative GOP senators have got to give up their insistence that the party allow the government to shut down after Sept. 30 if they don’t get their way on defunding Obamacare.

The quixotic drive — led by Rubio, Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Mike Lee — is part of Rubio’s effort to make up with the conservative base after he was stunned by the backlash over his deal-making on immigration. Pollsters say the funding fight makes Republicans look even more obstructionist, and causes voters to worry about the effect a shutdown would have on their own finances.

Whit Ayres of North Star Opinion Research, who has been drilling down on this issue for the conservative public-opinion group Resurgent Republic, said: “Shutting down the government is the one way that Republicans can turn Obamacare from a political advantage to a political disadvantage in 2014.”

This passage contains both an important recognition and an unwitting glimpse into the broader, unacknowledged problem here. The government shutdown push has focused the attention of GOP elites, because it is probably suicidal politically for the party. At the same time, though, the unspoken premise is that the problem is only one of excessive tactics, rather than something more fundamental.

If Republicans are in jeopardy of convincing voters they cannot govern, as top GOPers seem to fear, it’s not clear that this is only because a shutdown has become a real possibility. A shutdown, because of its visibility and destructiveness, is obviously a glaring symbol of an inability to govern, one that voters (as the 1990s showed) easily understand in such terms. But the result of the relentless focus on the shutdown has been to quasi-normalize other opposition to Obamacare. If a shutdown risks conveying a fundamental inability to govern, why do not other efforts to sabotage the law — refusing bipartisan support for fixing the law; refusing to minister to constituents who want help with the law; etc. — while offering no alternative also convey the same?

The calculation appears to be that a shutdown is politically unthinkable, but Republicans can essentially ride an anti-Obamacare message without offering health care solutions of their own, thanks to the law’s unpopularity. What if this idea — which is partly the result of GOP unwillingness to tackle policy and partly because it has become locked into a position of scorched earth opposition to the law — is itself a complete miscalculation, locking in a situation where only one party is offering practical solutions?

The fundamental question Republicans need to answer is whether they view government as having a legitimate and meaningful role in fixing our health care system, and if so, what the Republican version of that looks like. Maybe the answer to this question is No, but if so, the next question then becomes, is that position tenable over the long term, particularly now, as Obamacare is set to begin conferring benefits on people?

Some Republicans have begun to acknowledge this larger problem in public, albeit in somewhat different terms. But the battle over the shutdown is distracting from the need to focus on that more basic challenge.

* DEMS GOING ON OFFENSE ON OBAMACARE: The White House-allied Americans United for Change plans a big health care offensive in the next two weeks. It says it will challenge conservative anti-Obamacare groups by aggressively touting the law’s benefits at staged events, attacking the right and GOP for wanting to return us to a pre-reform insurance industry free-for-all.

The premise: whatever Obamacare’s unpopularity, detailed polling shows full repeal is a minority position. Dems must shrink from defending the law’s broad goals with a “keep and fix” message while going on offense against the GOP’s de facto “repeal and do nothing” stance. The party that looks genuinely interested in fixing health care can win the battle.

 * CONGRESS MUST PUSH FOR REAL NSA REFORM: Barton Gellman moves the ball forward in a big way:

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents. Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order.

This sheds new light on NSA’s record of compliance with legal parameters on surveillance. And it’s very disturbing stuff. The question is whether this will prompt more calls in Congress (where there’s broad support for surveillance programs) for reform to the programs themselves, as opposed to just transparency around them.

* CONSERVATIVES CLAIM MOMENTUM IN DEFUND-OBAMACARE CRUSADE: The Hill reports that House conservatives are coming away from town hall meetings over recess more persuaded that their constituents want them to stage a government shutdown fight to defund Obamacare. Even Republicans who oppose this course of action are getting an earful:

“I’m getting quite a bit about having a shutdown over Obamacare. I disagree with that,” said Rep. Tom Cole, who described his town halls as “challenging.”

But again, why is it surprising that conservative voters are taking this seriously, after GOP leaders spent literally years feeding the Obamacare repeal beast?

* CONSERVATIVES RIP “GUTLESS” HOUSE GOP: Related to the above: Heritage Action for America, a leader of the defund-Obamacare crusade, tears into House GOP leaders for refusing to show the spine to do what it takes to block the law. To understand what this means, read Jonathan Bernstein on how conservatives need to be able to pillory Republican leaders as soft, for their own cynical purposes.

The question remains whether this will continue to take hold among House conservatives, creating a situation in which Republicans are incapable of passing anything funding the government even at current levels., and then how GOP leaders deal with it (by, perhaps, breaking the fictional Hastert Rule).

* NORTH CAROLINA’S DRACONIAN VOTER SUPPRESSION LAW: The Post has a good editorial excoriating the new North Carolina law as a “truly abominable piece of anti-democratic legislation” and a direct assault on the right to vote. This debunking of the rationale for such laws across the country is key:

States do have a valid interest in ensuring that voters are who they say they are, but the same states that so vehemently defend these laws typically provide little assistance for those who lack the necessary documentation. In fact, if defending the franchise were really the intent, these laws would include positive measures that helped citizens meet new requirements instead of a laundry list of restrictions unrelated to a voter’s identity.

* AND TODAY’S PLUM READS:

Michael Tomasky on the real meaning of Bill De Blasio’s populist campaign for mayor of New York and what it portends (or should portend) about Dem messaging on economic issues.

FactCheck.org takes stock of the degree to which Mitch McConnell is fudging the truth in his attacks on Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin, perhaps suggesting consternation in McConnell-world.

* Paul Krugman on how the deficit and spending alarmists have successfully convinced the electorate that those are our most immediate and urgent problems, making rational policymaking impossible.

Ed Kilgore on the multiple symptoms of the base’s iron grip on the GOP.

 

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