August 19, 2013

Here’s something to keep an eye on as we enter the second half of the August recess: Will there be any grassroots outcry to speak of on behalf of the right’s push for a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, or will the whole thing be a big fizzle?

Today Heritage Action for America is launching a nine-city tour designed to drum up support for the push for defunding. The White House-allied Americans United for Change is vowing to match Heritage’s events with its own, in an effort to demonstrate at least as much or more energy on the pro-Obamacare side. We’re already seeing little evidence to suggest that the great and fearsome conservative backlash to immigration reform is materializing. Will the same happen on the great defund-Obamacare crusade?

Those who want a shutdown confrontation are themselves framing the battle in these terms, arguing that the recess is the time for the grassroots to speak up and demand that the squishy GOP establishment stiffen its spine and do what it takes to halt Obamacare before it’s too late. Indeed, National Journal reports that the movement to defund Obamacare is falling “on hard times,” and even defund-Obamacare ringleader Ted Cruz seems uneasy:

With momentum stalled in Washington, proponents of “defund or shutdown” know they must rally the base during the current August recess and are ramping up pressure. “We need to activate another grassroots army,” Cruz said in a taped message he released earlier this month. Heritage Action, the activist arm of the Heritage Foundation, has organized a nine-city “Defund Obamacare” town-hall tour, beginning Monday in Fayetteville, Ark.

“This has always been a strategy relying on people going home in August and listening to constituents,” said Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action.

At this point only 13 Senators have signed on to the “defund Obamacare” push, and GOP leaders (tentatively, to be sure, and with varying degrees of openness) are pushing back on the defund movement. The forces in favor of defunding are explicitly calling on the grassroots to show the GOP establishment that there is real public support for maximum tactics to halt Obamacare. And as Obamacare foes themselves know, time is running out: there is less than two months to go until the Obamacare exchanges go on line.

So keep an eye on how this defund Obamacare push plays. If it’s mostly a fizzle, it will confirm again that dissatisfaction with the law does not necessarily translate into support for doing away with it entirely, let alone replacing it with nothing.

 * ANOTHER REPUBLICAN WARNS AGAINST SHUTDOWN: Add Scott Walker to the list of Republicans who knows a shutdown is political suicide:

“I have real problems obviously with Obamcare,” he said. “But I think most Americans, even if they don’t like the size or growth of government, they still want something to work, something very fundamentally to work, and that’s a difference again between Washington and the state level.”

That’s why, as I keep telling you, a “keep and fix” message very well may trump a “repeal and do nothing” one.

* WHAT DEMS SHOULD SAY ABOUT OBAMACARE: A lot of excitement on the right today about this quote from vulnerable Dem Senator Mark Pryor:

“It has been a success,” Pryor says of Obamacare, citing a number of health insurance reforms and other benefits taking effect. “Probably we did get 80 percent [right], we have to go in and work on the 20 percent.”

But again, that’s exactly what Dems should say.

* CONSERVATIVES PRESSURE GOP TO DEFUND OBAMACARE: Tea Party groups are escalating the pressure on GOP lawmakers to support their defund-Obamacare push, with new online ads targeting Republicans who are either cool to the idea or have not taken a stand on the dispute. This is the key Tea Party quote:

“You fund it. You own it.”

Yep. If Republicans don’t support the maximum in destructive tactics in pursuit of Obamacare’s defunding, their opposition no longer counts. Whether or not a shutdown results, this sort of activity maximizes the chances for a chaotic and messy series of confrontations this fall.

* GOP’S FUNDAMENTAL MISCALCULATION ON OBAMACARE: Paul Krugman has a good column today detailing that the GOP’s inability to offer an alternative to Obamacare and to craft a coherent response to the law is rooted in a refusal to reckon with what the law actually does.

As noted here the other day, the GOP’s problem on Obamacare goes well beyond the push for a politically destructive government shutdown to defund it. Republicans need to decide whether they envision government playing a meaningful role in fixing our health care system and expanding coverage to millions of uninsured.

* GLENN GREENWALD’S PARTNER DETAINED: Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours yesterday in London, where all of his electronics equipment was seized. Miranda, who was in possession of documents relating to Greenwald’s ongoing investigation into NSA surveillance, was held under the British Terrorism Act, which allows such detention to determine possible knowledge of a terrorism plot.

I agree with Greenwald: “They completely abused their own terrorism law for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism…This is obviously a rather profound escalation of their attacks on the news-gathering process and journalism.”

* THE CHALLENGE OF SELLING IMMIGRATION REFORM: The New York Times has an illuminating look at John McCain’s efforts to sell immigration reform to sometimes-hostile constituents in his home state of Arizona. What’s particularly noteworthy is the contrast between McCain and House Republicans who refuse to consider the issue seriously, claiming pressure from constituents as the reason why.

We already know embracing reform might not ever be acceptable to the base; the question is whether lawmakers will embrace the need for action against an unacceptable status quo, even if it means some blowback from the right.

 * BIPARTISAN WAR-ON-DRUGS REFORM POSSIBLE: The Post has an interesting story reporting on the sea change in opinion among Republican officials who are coming around to the view that there are fiscal and social costs to what one expert calls “our experiment in mass incarceration.” Now that Attorney General Eric Holder has proposed sentencing reforms, the key thing to watch for is whether Republican Senators such as Jeff Sessions, Orrin Hatch and John Cornyn are prepared to embrace them.

* AND BUSINESS LEADERS DISCOVER TEA PARTY IS RADICAL: The Huffington Post details that House Republicans backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have not provided a good return on its investment, with many refusing to back immigration reform (as the group does) and pushing for a debt limit fight (which the group sees as reckless). There’s a schism between the Tea Party and the GOP’s pragmatic business wing (which, having helped the Tea Party into power, is alarmed to find out what it’s really about).

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.