September 26, 2013

So here’s the question that is, or should be, central to grasping the true nature of the current fight over the GOP drive to block Obamacare. How, exactly, would Republicans be making any concessions in agreeing to raise the debt limit?

This morning brings new details about the GOP’s strategy. With the Senate set to send a “clean CR” stripped of Obamacare defunding back to the House, Republicans are close to accepting that the shutdown push will fail. So they will ask for a comical list of concessions in exchange for raising the debt limit – including an Obamacare delay.

House Republicans will apparently vote on this before voting on funding the government. The game is to mollify conservatives now and get them to accept the need to fund the government with the promise of a bigger fight later. The Post has the latest rundown on what Republicans will ask for in exchange for raising the debt limit, and note the consideration given to the item involving abortion:

In addition to delaying implementation of the health-care law for one year, the bill would establish a timetable for tax reform, squeeze $120 billion from federal health programs over the next decade — in part by tightening medical malpractice laws — and cut federal civil service pensions.

The measure also would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline and advance other GOP economic goals, including increasing offshore oil drilling, blocking federal regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and restricting most forms of federal industry regulation.

About the only major piece of the Republican agenda missing from the bill is a ban on late-term abortions — and some lawmakers who oppose abortion were arguing to add that, GOP aides said.

This could get some attention today, because Dems can seize on it to argue that Republicans are asking for concessions that have nothing whatsoever to do with the debt in exchange for raising the debt limit.

It remains to be seen whether major commentators and news orgs will clearly and forthrightly reckon with — and convey to readers — how insane the GOP position here really is. I laid out the reasons for this yesterday, but the short version is that Democrats are not asking Republicans to give up anything in requesting that they support a debt limit hike. They are not asking Republicans to agree to more spending. They are not asking for new taxes. They are simply asking Republicans to join them in making it possible for Congress to pay obligations it has already incurred, and in so doing, avert economic catastrophe for the whole country. There is no rationale for giving Republicans anything in return for this.

Yet story after story portrays this as a battle in which both sides are asking the other to make concessions, and in which it remains to be seen whether a compromise will be reached. But the real “compromise” position here is one in which Republicans and Dems cooperate to avert economic catastrophe for the country. It is not a “compromise” if Dems unilaterally give up concessions in exchange for Republican cooperation in making it possible to pay debts already incurred and thus averting economic disaster for all of us. In this scenario, Republicans aren’t giving up anything. Only Dems are.

Folks will respond to this by arguing that anything is fair game in politics, and there’s nothing really out of bounds in doing this, because, well, Republicans can. Fine – but at let’s at least describe the GOP position accurately.

By the way, the more the list of demands grows, the less likely it is that Obama and Dems will ever agree to negotiate over any of this. As Jonathan Chait explains, Obama ratifying this as an acceptable approach to governing could be in some ways worse than default — and the addiction to government-by-extortion must be broken at some point.

Beyond this, Republican leaders are pursuing this strategy even though they know Obama and Dems won’t ever agree to an Obamacare delay. But that brings us to our next item.

* GOP SET TO SURRENDER IN SHUTDOWN FIGHT: Byron York has some good reporting on how Republicans are gaming out the final steps leading to their ultimate vote to fund the government without defunding Obamacare. This is key:

House GOP leaders have lots of options. They could always re-attach a defunding provision and send the continuing resolution back to the Senate. I’m told that idea is off the table; it would do nothing except provoke a government shutdown. The House GOP could also attach a measure to delay the implementation of Obamacare, or of the individual mandate at the heart of Obamacare, for a year or some other period of time. I’m told that is also off the table; Senate Democrats and President Obama have shown no more inclination to agree to delaying Obamacare than they have to defunding it.

Okay, so if Republicans know Dems won’t delay Obamacare, what’s the point of asking for a debt limit hike in exchange for it, other than to placate a base angry about the pending shutdown surrender?

* INSIDE BOEHNER’S DEBT LIMIT STRATEGY: We already saw above that Boehner will ask for a comically extensive range of concessions — including an Obamacare delay – in exchange for not destroying the economy. Politico explains the strategic rationale:

Boehner’s strategy all along has been to place outsize importance on the debt ceiling fight. His reasoning is simple: He thinks Obama’s position — that he  will not negotiate on lifting the borrowing limit — is impossible to maintain.  So the speaker has compiled a debt hike bill with a bunch of goodies that they  think House Republicans will vote for, and red state Democrats won’t want to avoid.

So this vote to delay Obamacare and give Republicans multiple concessions in exchange for not destroying the economy is supposed to be a hard one for red state Dems?

* AMERICANS OPPOSE GOP SABOTAGE OF OBAMACARE: A new New York Times/CBS News poll confirms it again: 56 percent of Americans want Congress to uphold Obamacare and try to make it work, versus only 38 percent who want it defunded. And Americans want the debt ceiling to be kept separate from the health law by 60-31.

This, even though 51 percent disapprove of the law. Again: Disapproval does not translate into support for GOP stabotage of it.

* BUT DEBT LIMIT POLITICS NOT ALL FAVORABLE TO DEMS: The same NYT/CBS poll also finds that 55 percent think the debt limit should be raised along with spending cuts. This may reflect general worry about debt, and may well encourage Republicans to forge ahead with asking for concessions in return for raising it. However, 60 percent also say the deficit should be reduced with a combination of spending cuts and tax hikes, which is to say that broadly speaking, the American mainstream agrees with Dems on how to tackle our fiscal problems.

* ABOUT OBAMA, SYRIA, AND “LEADERSHIP”: One last nugget from the NYT/CBS poll: 58 percent say Obama has “strong qualities of leadership.” Now do we get to say adapting to changing circumstances on Syria didn’t make the president look fatally “weak”?

* GOP SENATORS RAGE AT CRUZ’S DISHONESTY: The New York Times has a fun look at GOP Senators who are criticizing Ted Cruz for misleading conservatives into believing Obamacare can be defunded, making their lives miserable because voters are demanding they help Cruz make it happen. Here’s Tea Party Senator Ron Johnson:

Mr. Cruz and others who insist that they can prevail in defunding the health care law, Mr. Johnson added, are misleading voters who are looking to them for leadership that the party has lacked lately. “They just want anybody who offers them a path, whether it’s realistic or not,” he said.

After years of misleading folks about Obamacare, the GOP is finding they can no longer control the monster all that dishonesty helped unleash. Going forward, though, what this means is that these anti-Obamacare voters will keep demanding GOP lawmakers pursue the futile quest to stop the law outside normal electoral channels.

* AND THE TEA PARTY CONTINUES SHRINKING: A new Gallup poll finds that only 22 percent of Americans now identify themselves as Tea Party supporters, close to an all-time low. Even the “intensity gap” no longer favors Tea Partyers, with the amount of “strong” Tea Party opponents outnumbering strong supporters. And yet, the Tea Party still wields outsized influence over the GOP agenda — underscoring, if anything, how disproportionate this influence remains.

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.