October 1, 2013

So House Republicans are allowing the government to shut down, rather than permit a vote on continued funding of the government at sequester levels, which alone would (in a sane universe) have been a real victory for them. This puts Republicans in precisely the same position they were in before they caved to conservative demands and launched a series of anti-Obamacare votes that have proven futile. Remember, Congress will vote to fund the government soon enough. Dems are not going to meaningfully undermine Obamacare, which means John Boehner will have to figure out a way, very soon, of allowing a vote on funding for the government, untethered from the health law, even if it means making the Tea Party very, very angry.

How long Boehner is willing to postpone this will be partly influenced by how much damage the GOP is sustaining, as judged by influential party insiders. And on that score, today’s new Quinnipiac poll should set off alarm bells.

It finds that 58 percent of Americans, including 58 percent of independents, oppose Congress defunding Obamacare. Seventy two percent, and 74 percent of independents, oppose shutting down major activities of the government to stop the health law. On the debt limit, 64 percent oppose not raising it to block the law. All of this is in spite of plurality disapproval of Obamacare. Dems have opened a nine point lead in the generic House matchup, 43-34. Underlying structural factors mean even a wide lead probably won’t dislodge the GOP majority. But as Steven Shepard rightly notes, a shutdown could make things “volatile.”

Beyond this, though, the poll also sheds light on how Americans view the values and intentions of the major actors in this drama — which arguably could have real influence on how they view the situation over time. Here the poll is grim for the GOP.

It finds that despite under-water approval ratings, 54 percent say Obama is “honest and trustworthy”; 54 percent say he cares about people’s needs and problems; and he leads Republicans on handling the middle class by 51-38. While 50 percent say Obama isn’t doing enough to compromise with Republicans, 68 percent say Republicans aren’t doing enough to compromise with Obama. This may be the most important finding:

Which comes closer to your point of view; there is gridlock in Washington mainly because President Obama lacks the personal skills to convince leaders of Cnogress tow ork together, or there is gridlock in Washington mainly because Republicans in Congress are determined to block any President Obama initiative:

Obama lacks skills: 33

Republicans block 55

Fifty one percent of independents, and 63 percent of moderates, place the blame on GOP determination to block “any” Obama initiative. It’s gratifying to see the public rejects Green Lanternism. But beyond this, it’s very plausible that public perceptions of which side is genuinely committed to constructive governance on behalf of the middle class, and which side is actively preventing the system from functioning on behalf of those Americans, will be the prism through which the public views this shutdown. Don’t take my word for it. Even the House GOP leadership’s own pollster has said the same.

These findings were taken before the government shutdown. There’s no telling how much worse public perceptions could get now that it’s under way, let alone how they’d be impacted by default and a resulting economic crash.

 * BOEHNER WARNS GOP MAJORITY IS AT RISK: Politico reports:

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has privately warned House Republicans that they  could lose their majority in 2014 as a result of shutting down the government.

I’m skeptical, but again, how long GOP leaders hold to their current posture could be partly determined by their sense of how much water the GOP is taking on.

* WHAT COMES NEXT IN SHUTDOWN FIGHT? Late yesterday, House Republicans voted to go to conference to negotiate a short term spending bill. Harry Reid’s office sends this around to reporters on what is planned for this morning:

If the House follows through with their current plan, the Senate will vote to table the House’s conference gambit shortly after convening. And we will be back at square one.

Democrats see no reason to help Republicans out of their jam, which is that they must choose between alienating the Tea Party and taking the blame for a government shutdown. Also: What is there to negotiate, given Republicans are demanding unilateral concessions in exchange for doing what they themselves say is necessary for the good of the country, i.e., keeping the government open?

* IS BOEHNER SET TO CAVE? Byron York seems to think it’s possible. He notes that just yesterday, Boehner ruled out a vote on a “clean CR” temporarily funding the government without any defunding of Obamacare. But early this morning…

[A] reporter asked, “Will you permit a vote on a clean CR?” Boehner’s response, in its entirety: “We are hoping that the Senate will take our offer to go to conference and let us resolve our differences.” Boehner said nothing about “not going to happen” or “don’t see that happening.” Instead, he sidestepped the “clean” resolution question entirely.

As York reports, influential Republicans believe Boehner will ultimately opt for the clean CR. Of course, then it will be on to the debt limit.

* MEANWHILE, OBAMACARE’S EXCHANGES GO LIVE TODAY: As the Post editorial board puts it:

As with any big rollout, there will no doubt be problems, many of them mundane. Computer systems will not work perfectly. Some people might have to sign up over the phone or on paper. But everyone should hope that those sorts of problems — and the overheated rhetoric of critics — do not deter too many people from buying insurance.

Republicans will deliberately hype any glitch, no matter how minor, into proof the law is a catastrophe, with the explicit purpose of dissuading people from signing up and taking advantage of the law’s benefits — thus making it more likely the law fails. Will news orgs show appropriate perspective here?

* RIFT STILL REMAINS AMONG REPUBLICANS: The Post’s big write up makes a crucial point about the continued GOP demand that Obamacare remain tied to the government funding fight:

Despite the show of unity, Republicans on both sides of the Capitol remain deeply divided about the attack on the health-care law. In the House, a group of more moderate Republicans was seething about the decision to bow to the forces that oppose the Affordable Care Act, led by Sen. Ted Cruz and his allies on the right…Frustrations also were simmering among Senate Republicans, who complained that House leaders were pressing the attack in direct opposition to public opinion.

This is key. Boehner is trying to keep the GOP united as long as possible, but all that’s really happening is that the fractures are being temporarily papered over.

 * WHY RIFT STILL REMAINS AMONG REPUBLICANS: Related to the above, Michael Gerson gets the motive driving the Tea Party just right:

We are no longer seeing a revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican “establishment”; this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality.

Exactly. This is about who is willing to resort to the most destructive tactics against Obamacare whether or not they will actually work. The true nature of the GOP divide is over this.

* DEMS HIT VULNERABLE HOUSE REPUBLICANS OVER SHUTDOWN: The DCCC is planning to pump robo-calls into the districts of 63 vulnerable House GOP incumbents, demanding that each of them “end the shutdown, stop the nonsense and focus on commonsense solutions that protect our health care and grow our economy.”

Dems believe a shutdown may be one of the few things that can shake up the midterm dynamic in a significant way, a sentiment even some Republicans share. ,Meanwhile, the Dem-allied American Bridge rolls out “SpeakerCruz,com,” a sign Dems will use the shutdown to tar the GOP as hostage to its most extreme and destructive elements.

* AND DEMS SET TO PLAY HARDBALL? An interesting scoop from Roll Call: Senate Dems are considering leaking a series of private emails that will supposedly show that John Boehner’s office privately favored the Obamacare subsidies for Members of Congress and staff, before attaching a provision nixing them to funding of the government.

That would be a particularly interesting move, because the Dems’ vote against that measure was supposed to be an impossible lift politically for them.

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.