September 24, 2013

The conservative drive to threaten a government shutdown to defund Obamacare is collapsing, thanks in part to the news that Mitch McConnell won’t vote with Ted Cruz, effectively meaning the strategy is dead. So now, multiple reports are telling us that House Republicans are preparing to use the debt limit to force an Obamacare delay.

This comes as new polling confirms yet again the basic dynamic here: The American people, even if they disapprove of Obamacare, do not support using this fall’s fiscal confrontations to sabotage the law, whether we’re talking about a government shutdown or the debt limit.

In moving away from a shutdown fight, House Republicans are pleading with conservatives to recognize two realities — Dems won’t agree to seriously undermine Obamacare, and destructive brinksmanship will damage the GOP far more than Obama or Dems. But in forging the new House GOP strategy, Republican leaders are refusing to bow to the very same realities they are asking conservatives to accept.

David Drucker reports on the new plan being hatched by House Republicans:

The package that House GOP leaders plan to unveil when their members return to Washington late Wednesday will be anchored by proposals to simultaneously raise the federal borrowing limit and delay for a year further implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, the legislation would likely include a collection of previously introduced bills popular among House Republicans and difficult for Obama to dominate, including construction of the job-rich Keystone XL pipeline.

The debt-ceiling package, set for a House vote by week’s end, could include a variety of GOP-friendly economic proposals, including tax reform, Medicare means testing, medical liability reform, an overhaul of the federal employee retirement system, elimination of the Dodd-Frank bailout, the easing of Environmental Protection Agency rules, restrictions on federal regulators and an expansion of offshore energy production.

Gee, that’s it? Maybe Republicans should also ask Obama to impeach himself while they’re at it.

The meaning of this is plain. House Republicans will likely cave in the shutdown fight — probably by passing a “clean CR” funding the government at current levels. Hoping to soften the blow among conservatives who will scream “surrender,” GOP leaders are already signaling they will demand a whole grab bag of conservative goodies — including undermining Obamacare — in exchange for a debt limit hike.

The apparent thinking here is that the debt limit gives Republicans more “leverage.” But, ironically enough, the very act of asking for a string of concessions that is comically transparent in its effort to mollify conservatives further undermines the strategy itself. There’s just no way Obama can agree to engage in negotiations around anything approaching this set of demands, because it would help cement a dynamic that would be untenable over the long term, one in which Republicans continue to insist on an insane level of concessions in exchange for agreeing to avert economic chaos. And by continually inflating unrealistic expectations among conservatives, GOP leaders make it harder to accept a “face saving” way out of the debt limit jam, too.

The shutdown strategy always suffered from a refusal to accept that for Obama and Dems, anything that fundamentally undermines the Affordable Care Act is a non-starter, no matter what. The  shutdown gamble also suffered from the delusion that dissaproval of Obamacare would automatically translate into widespread public support for any tactic designed to undermine it, no matter the level of collateral damage. In abandoning one hostage strategy and substituting another, House Republicans are asking conservatives to accept both of those realities, even as their own preferred strategy is based on a continuing refusal to reckon with them.

* POLL SHOWS BROAD OPPOSITION TO OBAMACARE SABOTAGE: A new National Journal poll finds that 63 percent of Americans support funding the government and keeping the health care issue separate, versus only 27 percent who support only funding the government if Obama agrees to unwind the health law. Sixty one percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans, support keeping them separate. The same is true of the debt limit:

Opposition to linking Obamacare with debt-ceiling talks is less severe, but nonetheless potent. A majority, 52 percent, say “increase the U.S. debt limit and deal with the health care issue separately,” while 31 percent say “only increase the debt limit if Obama agrees to delay or withdraw his health care plan.”

Fifty-one percent of independents want the debt limit and health care considered separately. As noted here yesterday, John Boehner does not have to allow a radical minority to paralyze the government.

* WALL STREET JOURNAL SLAMS TED CRUZ: The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board absolutely blisters Ted Cruz and his doomed crusade to defund Obamacare. The most important line in the editorial:

The only real way to repeal the law is to win elections.

It’s the latest sign of alarm among GOP elites about where this is all headed, now that the madness unleashed by years of lies and distortions about Obamacare can no longer be contained.

* TED CRUZ SANK HIS OWN CRUSADE: Relatedly, see a smart point from Steve Benen: Senate procedural complexities have actually given Senate Republicans a clever way to throw Cruz overboard, while appearing as anti-Obamacare as ever. Cruz doomed himself.

* THE GOP REBRANDING IS OFFICIALLY DEAD: Brian Beutler takes stock of the ways in which the government shutdown fight signals the official death of the GOP rebranding effort. (link fixed) From immigration to the continuing battle over Obamacare, the GOP’s extreme wing has killed it dead.

* NO MORE COMPROMISING FROM MITCH McCONNELL: The New York Times takes a look at how pressure from the right in the Kentucky GOP Senate primary has put Mitch McConnell in an even less compromising mood than he’s been during the past five years. This is the key McConnell quote:

“I don’t intend to participate in any discussion, publicly or privately, that raises taxes or spends more than current law.”

McConnell — who stepped in to help negotiate a fiscal cliff deal — won’t participate in any talks to replace the sequester if that replacement includes a penny more in new revenues from the rich. The only way to a replacement, then, is to get a half dozen GOP Senators to break with leadership.

* GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN BECOMES ISSUE IN SENATE RACES: Dems are circulating this piece from the Charlotte Observer detailing that the Republicans vying in a primary to run for Dem Senator Kay Hagan’s seat are falling over each other to support a government shutdown to defund Obamacare. This, plus McConnell’s gyrations on the issue while under pressure from a challenge, suggests the shutdown push may be becoming a litmus test issue in which contenders must prove their “conservative” bona fides, which could have ramifications in general elections.

 * GET READY FOR DEBT CEILING ARMAGEDDON: The threat of a government shutdown is bad enough, but the threat of default is far worse: As Annie Lowery details this morning in a must read, it could cost hundreds of billions of dollars and inflict deep damage on the global economy. Remember, Republicans such as John Boehner have already admitted not raising the debt limit could imperil the full faith and credit of the United States, but are using it as a bargaining chip, anyway.

* FORMER HOUSE SPEAKERS MARVEL AT GOP CHAOS: Former House Speakers such as Newt Gingrich and Dennis Hastert tell Jill Lawrence that things are probably worse now in the House than they’ve ever been, thanks to today’s radicalized Tea Party minority, which imagines it will undo Obama’s signature domestic achievement outside normal electoral channels. Of course, the Tea Partyers will only seize on this as proof they are rattling the “old guard,” confirming the righteousness of their cause.

 * AND DEMS VAULT INTO LEAD IN VIRGINIA: A new Washington Post poll finds Dem Terry McAuliffe now leads GOPer Ken Cuccinelli by nine points among likely voters, 47-39. Also of note: McAuliffe now leads Cuccinelli among women by 24 points, which suggests that perhaps the Republican’s positions on women’s health issues have become a bit of a problem for him.

Dem operatives are hoping this portends similar gender gaps in other statewide races, such as next year’s Senate contests. Worth watching.

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