August 22, 2013

For years now, Republican leaders have been keeping alive the idea that the Affordable Care Act’s day of reckoning is just around the corner, with endless repeal votes and vows to resist the law by any means necessary until it collapses under its own weight, an outcome that has to be inevitable, since it is socialism built on a foundation of tyranny.

The problem: Conservatives are taking this seriously, demanding the GOP leadership must actually resist the law by any means necessary — including tactics that are far more politically self-destructive than GOP leaders ever bargained for.

Now GOP leaders face their own day of reckoning. At a certain point they will have to level with the base, and acknowledge that the law is not going to be stopped through tactics outside normal electoral channels.

But Republican leaders are delaying this moment as long as they can. We’ve already been told by reporters with right-leaning outlets that Republicans — having decided the push for a government shutdown to defund Obamacare is suicide — may instead try to use the debt limit as leverage against the law. Now Reuters reports that using the debt limit to “delay the law’s implementation” is officially being considered by GOP leaders:

The idea is gaining traction among Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, aides said on Wednesday. An aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the debt limit is a “good leverage point” to try to force some action on the healthcare law known as “Obamacare.”

This will now enter the mainstream conversation. It seems designed to mitigate damage among conservatives who will see the leadership’s unwillingness to provoke a shutdown as full scale surrender. The idea is to talk conservatives out of their preferred insane strategy of the moment by promising a confrontation around a different “leverage point” later. We’ve seen this before: Earlier this year, GOP leaders did the same to avoid a fight over (yup) the debt limit.

Now we’re back to a place where Republicans — having caved on the debt limit last time — are threatening to use it to force changes to Obamacare. But Dems wouldn’t accept this in 2011, when they were politically far weaker. And even conservatives note the exchanges will likely kick in before the debt limit deadline, meaning Republicans will be threatening economic havoc to take benefits away from people. Also, as Chris Van Hollen puts it, raising expectations for a debt limit/ACA showdown will only make it harder for Republicans to get votes for the debt limit hike they already admit is inevitable, ensuring they’ll need help from Dems to avoid disaster — angering conservatives further.

And this is the rub. Floating use of the debt limit against Obamacare only keeps alive the notion that this fall’s confrontations give Republicans leverage to block or delay the law — the very idea that is hurtling GOP leaders towards the shutdown confrontation they don’t want, and making maximum chaos this fall more likely. But eventually GOP leaders will need to acknowledge openly that the GOP doesn’t have that leverage — whether with a shutdown confrontation, a debt limit fight, or whatever. Indeed, as Jonathan Chait predicts, ultimately the GOP will have to let go of its whole Obamacare boycott — efforts to sabotage the law through non-Apocalyptic means included. The first big manifestation of this will likely come this fall, and it’s going to get very ugly, which is why GOP leaders are so eager to postpone it.

* MORE REVELATIONS ABOUT NSA SURVEILLANCE: The Post has the latest:

For several years, the National Security Agency unlawfully gathered tens of thousands of e-mails and other electronic communications between Americans as part of a now-revised collection method, according to a 2011 secret court opinion. The redacted 85-page opinion, which was declassified by U.S. intelligence officials on Wednesday, states that, based on NSA estimates, the spy agency may have been collecting as many as 56,000 “wholly domestic” communications each year.

This really should give more impetus to calls to declassify all relevant FISA court opinions.

* OBAMA TO ROLL OUT OUT PLAN TO MAKE COLLEGE AFFORDABLE: The New York Times scoops it:

A draft of the proposal, obtained by The New York Times and likely to cause some consternation among colleges, shows a plan to rate colleges before the 2015 school year based on measures like tuition, graduation rates, debt and earnings of graduates, and the percentage of lower-income students who attend. The ratings would compare colleges against their peer institutions. If the plan can win Congressional approval, the idea is to base federal financial aid to students attending the colleges partly on those rankings.

Since this will probably go nowhere, given divisions in Congress, it’s probably about putting Dems on the side of the middle class on an issue that has recently been at the center of partisan battles. The Hill notes it is designed to coincide with the White House summertime push to refocus on economic issues.

* ANOTHER GOP SENATOR SIGNS ON TO DEFUND-OBAMACARE CRUSADE: Tea Party Senator Mike Lee, a leader of the defunding push, boats that Senator Pat Roberts has joined the party. The total now: all of 14 Senators have now signed on, and there’s still no sign of any GOP leadership support in either chamber.

* DEMINT: WHO CARES IF SHUTDOWN IS POLITICAL SUICIDE? Also in the above story, a great quote from former Senator and current Heritage chief Jim DeMint about the political risks a shutdown fight poses for the GOP:

“The risk of that is so much less than the risk to our country if we implement ObamaCare, and so I’m not as interested in the political futures of folks who think they might lose a showdown with the president,” DeMint said Monday night at a town hall meeting.

GOP leaders will love that one…

* GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN WOULD BE HUGE GIFT TO DEMS: Politico reports that Democratic strategists are convinced that a government shutdown would be just the thing to shake up the political landscape enough to make retaking the House possible. It’s worth noting that Republicans — those dreaded establishment ones — share that view.

Of course, this will only deepen the conviction of conservatives in the bravery and righteousness of the cause.

* MCCONNELL IS WAY AHEAD IN KENTUCKY: Mitch McConnell’s campaign released a new poll today showing the Senate GOP leader leading Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin by 47 points. No one doubts that McConnell will win the primary; rather, Dems hope Bevin’s attacks on him from the right it will weaken him in the general election by depressing conservative enthusiasm.

 * MARY LANDRIEU, LEAST VULNERABLE RED STATE DEM: Dem strategists and operatives believe Senator Mary Landrieu is the least vulnerable of all of the red state Dem incumbents being targeted by Republicans for 2014. If she survives, one wonders if commentators will widely note the fact that she voted for the Manchin-Toomey background check bill — and didn’t pay any price for it.

* 50 YEARS AFTER MLK’S MARCH ON WASHINGTON: E.J. Dionne has an excellent reminder that Martin Luther King’s big speech in Washington — 50 years ago this Saturday — was first and foremost about jobs and economic justice, and that this part of his message is every bit as relevant today as it was then. Also: It will be interesting to see how Obama’s speech commemorating the march refers to today’s drive to restrict voting and puts it in the context of King’s call for expanding voting rights.

 * AND THE PREMISE UNDERLYING GOP DEBT CEILING INSANITY: Steve Benen makes a great point about what’s underlying the latest debt limit/Obamacare bluff:

The GOP sees the nation’s fiscal duties as a “leverage point” because they assume Democrats are responsible public officials who want to protect Americans from harm. And I suppose that’s not a horrible assumption to make.The question, however, is why Republicans don’t see themselves the same way.

Yep, that is a good question. 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.