September 17, 2013
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (Gary Cameron/Reuters)

It is hard to gauge the degree to which the shutdown fever has gripped the House GOP. The shutdown forces are loud and enjoy the talk show echo chamber, but do they have support among their colleagues?

We know that those advocating a government shutdown to “defund” Obamacare haven’t convinced even a majority of their Senate colleagues. In the House, a senior House aide offered that most of the conference was “supportive” of the speaker’s approach. Another suggested the “tide” was in the direction, but that it wouldn’t be hard for hardliners to drive the House off course once again.

There are some signs, however, that the prospect of a shutdown has alarmed Republicans, who think that while the aim of getting rid of Obamacare  is admirable, the strategy is suicidal. The argument that the shutdown crowd is actually electorally helping the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (by infighting with their own colleagues and egging them on toward an unpopular strategy) has some resonance among GOP members. (The Wall Street Journal editorial board warns, “The kamikazes could end up ensuring the return of all-Democratic rule.”)

In the House, GOP staffers have taken to calling out a major instigator of the shutdown hooey, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) (“anger at Cruz carries a fairly broad base among House Republicans, many of whom view his Obamacare push as self-destructive to the party”).

Conservatives opposed to a shutdown strategy seem to be making progress in debunking the hard right’s nonsense claim that unless a Republican votes for a shutdown he’s an Obamacare supporter.

In a TV appearance, Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) told a local Wisconsin interviewer, “Well, I don’t think we’ll have a government shutdown, but we want to do anything we can possible to delay Obamacare. One of the problems is there’s a little misconception out there, that if we stop funding what we call discretionary spending, that that stops Obamacare. It doesn’t. Entitlements continue on. Social Security and Medicare, those things continue, even if we have a government shutdown.” He explained, ” Obamacare is an entitlement. So it’s not within the power of the House Republicans unilaterally to defund Obamacare by just passing one bill and it happens. To defund or delay Obamacare, Obama himself has to sign that bill into law. And so what we’re trying to do is figure out the best way of maximizing our leverage to get the president to delay his health-care law.”

At National Review Online, Avik Roy likewise counsels that “the chances that President Obama will agree to defund his signature achievement are zero, whereas the chances that the public would punish Republicans for shutting down the government are, shall we say, non-zero.”

He favors Majority leader Eric Cantor’s approach. (The House “would simultaneously fund the government, including Obamacare, at sequester levels while also passing a separate resolution that would amend the CR to defund Obamacare. By using this mechanism, the House would force the Senate to vote on the defunding resolution, while preserving the sequester-driven spending caps, and also ensuring that any government shutdown would be the fault of Democrats in the Senate.”)

And he picks up on the irritation of a growing number of elected officials with Heritage Action (“I’m not sure who died and made Heritage pope, but apparently Heritage Action thinks it has the authority to excommunicate Paul Ryan, Tom Coburn, Grover Norquist, and countless others from the conservative movement.”) He turns tables, labeling GOP conservatives who insist the only chance to kill Obamacare is through a suicidal shutdown this fall as the real “surrender caucus.”

Other conservatives like James Capretta and Jeffrey Anderson, who have not only worked assiduously for Obamacare’s repeal, but crafted alternatives to Obamacare (something the Cruz-Lee-Marco Rubio faction hasn’t done), also tell conservatives that while the public is with them on getting rid of Obamacare, a shutdown remains unpopular and will lose them support. Instead, they encourage “GOP leaders and rank-and-file members [who] are coalescing around the view that Obamacare should be their primary target—and that delaying it should be their principal short-term goal political perspective.” They point to polling that strongly supports their strategy.

What these opponents of the shutdown strategy can do is provide protection to House members who fear being labeled as soft on Obamacare. By making clear the choice is one of strategy –rejecting a bad one in favor of one that might work – they go a long way toward putting pressure on the pro-shutdown squad to explain how their plan is actually going to work.

With Congress returning this week it will become more clear where the majority of GOP conference are on the issue. A GOP House optimistic about a successful delay strategy emails, “The tougher challenge is finding the sweet spots for 218 votes + 60 votes + President’s signature.” That suggests a Plan B may be needed. It also reminds us why most political watchers think John Boehner has the worst job in Washington, D.C.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.