September 27, 2013

So the Senate is set to vote to send a “clean CR” funding the government at sequester levels back to House Republicans. Multiple reports this morning portray House GOP leaders in a state of confusion as they ponder what’s next.

One option: Attach a measure to the Senate bill that would eliminate Obamacare subsidies for members of Congress and aides – which conservatives would see as a symbolic victory — and send it back to the Senate. Meanwhile, House Republicans are looking to pass a proposal that ties a debt ceiling hike to a grab bag of conservative goodies, including an Obamacare delay. But that may not be able to attract enough Republican support to pass. Ultimately, though, when you strip away all the noise, all of this comes down to one problem, which was best summarized by Jeremy Peters:

It is unclear what the Republicans want, other than a complete repeal of the health law.

Bingo. The thing Republicans want most — the guiding principle around which much of today’s GOP, particularly its conservative wing, is organized — is the thing they can’t have.

Much of the chaos we’re now seeing flows directly from this fact. The comical conservative wish list Republicans want in exchange for the debt limit hike — including the Obamacare delay — is meant to mollify conservatives who are upset that GOP leaders are going to have to fund the government while not defunding (and completely doing away with) Obamacare. More broadly, the GOP leadership’s continued quest to use this fall’s fiscal confrontations to undermine Obamacare — through a government shutdown, the debt limit, or whatever — represents a larger refusal to let go of the need to placate the wing of the party that is committed to a Total War posture against the law. This precludes GOP leaders from pursuing the obvious course: Admitting that the law will not be eliminated through non-electoral means, and passing measures keeping the government open and averting economic catastrophe with a lot of Democrats.

There are two dimensions to the refusal to acknowledge a world in which Obamacare is here to stay, and to craft a response to that world, rather than continuing to try to will an alternate, non-Obamacare universe into being. One concerns policy; the other is political. On policy, beyond the resulting budget standoff, Republicans continue to refuse to engage in a real debate about the law, because so doing would require admitting that some of the news about it has been good and that even if there are real downsides, there are tradeoffs that are worth discussing. Meanwhile, Republicans refuse to participate in bipartisan fixes to the law. Conversations we need to be having just aren’t happening. And while some Republicans have rolled out an “alternative” to Obamacare, it simply wouldn’t extend coverage to anywhere near the same number of uninsured. Republicans need to tell us what they support to address the true dimensions of the problem of the poor and sick being locked out of the market, or admit they don’t think government should play an ambitious role in solving it.

On the political dimensions of this, Matt Lewis sums it up perfectly: The refusal to adjust to a world in which Obamacare is here to stay – which leaves no alternative but doubling-down on threats of mass destruction to do away with it — will only continue to reinforce the party’s image as hostage to ideological extremism and incapable of governing. Which is to say, until Republicans organize themselves around a goal other than the total destruction of Obamacare, and generate a serious health care agenda of their own, they will be locked in an untenable long term position.

* A BIG PICTURE LOOK AT WHY OBAMACARE IS WORTH IT: Absolutely don’t miss Jonathan Cohn’s deep, deep dive into why Democrats and health reformers undertook to create and pass the Affordable Care Act in the first place, i.e., to fix a series of problems that were causing widespread financial insecurity and misery. As Cohn notes, many of the critics are right to find things not to like. But:

Compromises, trade-offs, and, yes, unintended consequences have been part of every reform in American history. The minimum wage and child labor laws took money out of the pockets of employers. Social Security raised taxes on workers. Today, Americans cherish those programs because the good far outweighs the bad — because what the country gained, in economic security, health, and freedom, more than made up for what it lost. The same standard should apply today.

Read the whole thing. As I noted Wednesday, it’s not possible to have a genuine policy discussion about the law’s merits and problems with many opponents, because only the bad news ever gets acknowledged, and they simply refuse to allow that there are any tradeoffs worth debating.

 * CALLING GOP EXTORTION WHAT IT IS: The New York Times editorial board does not refrain from describing the GOP position on the debt limit accurately:

We’ll refrain from deliberately sabotaging the global economy, Speaker John Boehner and the other leaders said, if President Obama allows more oil drilling on federal lands. And drops regulations on greenhouse gases. And builds the Keystone XL oil pipeline. And stops paying for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. And makes it harder to sue for medical malpractice. And, of course, halts health care reform for a year. The list would be laughable if the threat were not so serious…the absurdity of the list shows just how important it is that Mr. Obama ignore every demand and force the House extremists to decide whether they really want to be responsible for an economic catastrophe.

It remains to be seen how many news orgs and commentators will reckon with the insanity we’re seeing here. Either way, Obama’s only remaining option appears to be to just say No.

* OBAMA MUST SAY NO TO DEBT LIMIT EXTORTION: Jonathan Chait spells out all the reasons why Obama cannot repeat the mistakes he made in 2011 on the debt limit, which partly created today’s problem:

Obama can’t tame the monster he created gradually; he has to kill it completely. Bargaining his way through this crisis would do Obama no good, even if he could get through it by offering up a meager or even symbolic concession. Anything that allows Republicans to believe they can trade a debt-ceiling threat for policy concessions simply creates a new hostage crisis the next time the debt ceiling comes up. This negotiation is Obama’s only chance to halt the routinization of debt-ceiling extortion

 * KENTUCKY GOVERNOR DEMANDS OBAMACARE: Steve Beshear sounds the alarm: “My state needs Obamacare. Now.” As Beshear notes, even some Republican governors, such as in Ohio and Michigan, see the law “not as a referendum on President Obama but as a tool for historic change.”

In other words, some GOP governors are having the conversation that national Republicans can’t have — about how the new law will actually impact their constituents – for the reasons outlined above.

* OBAMACARE WORSENS GOP’S PROBLEM WITH MINORITIES: Ron Brownstein digs into new National Journal polling and makes a key point: The party’s continuing drive to get rid of Obamacare could make it even harder to repair relations with minorities. While 51 percent of whites support repeal and only 43 percent want to keep the law and expand coverage…

Minorities, by comparison, broke 2-to-1 in favor of the health care law: 62 percent said it was more important to expand coverage, while only 31 percent backed repeal.

This is also true more specifically among Latinos; the conservative drive to destroy Obamacare is very likely to hurt the party’s efforts (such as they are) to broaden its appeal.

* JOHN McCAIN WARNS FELLOW REPUBLICANS: McCain, in an interview on CBS this morning, warns Republicans that flirting with a shutdown is folly:

“It’s very dysfunctional. The American people, by 80 to 20, do not want the government shutdown. And I was around the last time we did it, and there was a very big backlash.”

When Ted Cruz claims the American people are with him in his crusade to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, he is lying. It’s odd that it’s fallen to McCain to tell the truth about public sentiment, but such is life with today’s GOP.

* AND MEET THE DEBT CEILING TRUTHERS: Alan Pyke introduces us to them, as best captured by this quote from GOP Rep. John Fleming questioning whether a debt ceiling breach would cause widespread economic havoc:

 “Economists, what have they been doing?” the three-term congressman said in the New York Times on Friday. “They make all sorts of predictions.”

“Many times they’re wrong, so I don’t think we should run government based on economists’ predictions,” Fleming added.

Skewed!

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.