First, the House tried a continuing resolution defunding Obamacare. Then it tried a one-year delay in Obamacare implementation and repeal of the medical-device tax. Next it lobbed over to the Senate a one-year delay in Obamacare implementation and removing the Obamacare subsidy for congressmen and their staffs.
To the surprise of few reasoned observers, the Senate rejected each on a party-line vote. In the end, rather than duke it out with his conference, pushing for a clean continuing resolution and relying on Democratic votes to make up for hard-line defectors in his own conference, Boehner, in essence, punted, getting a vote on a request for a Senate conference committee.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada let it be known the Senate wouldn’t agree to a conference unless a clean continuing resolution was agreed upon first. And so we sit, the government shut down, except for the military and “essential” services.
There was a fundamental misunderstanding among even the less dogmatic House Republicans that the Obamacare votes on delay, the medical-device tax and/or the congressional subsidy would be so hard that red-state Democrats would break with their leadership. That was, as we expected, wrong. These Democrats long ago made their bed and intend to lie in it, willing to defend themselves against the onslaught of attacks that will come from their 2014 opponents. Even though that became clear when the Senate rejected the continuing resolution the first time Monday afternoon, the House kept repeating the effort to split off Democrats. House Republicans were in an endless loop, unable to interrupt the cycle or to divert to another plan.
And that brings us to the House leadership. Speaker of the House John Boehner of Ohio had always been able to pull back from the edge in these sorts of stand-offs. But, this time, although there appeared to be only about 30 hard-liners in his conference, he did not confront them (i.e. force a vote on a clean, get what he could and get the Democrats to make up the difference).
Would forcing the hard-liners to live with their intransigence (the shutdown) achieve some larger end? Did he think they’d capitulate after 24 or 48 hours, dealing them a blow and keeping his conference together? It wasn’t clear. But in allowing the Republicans to go over the cliff, Boehner demonstrated the degree to which leadership has lost control, if it ever had any, of the conference.
The most enlightening development, however, was the complete intellectual breakdown of so many who egged on the fight. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who had insisted on defunding, declared himself willing to pass whatever the House did. Club for Growth backed a delay. And even the infamous Red State blog chief who has been the dutiful defender of the Cruz-Jim DeMint brand admonished the House to vote a clean continuing resolution and get it over with. There was, to put it mildly, no “end game” and no rationale for a fight that risked the credibility of House Republicans, tore the party asunder and gave the president a much-needed diversion from the Obamacare roll-out. In short, they’d wreaked havoc for no good reason.
And those conservative pundits who cheered the entire escapade on — insisting the House was ideally positioned or that this would be a great show of force — are left embarrassed if not chastened. Those true believers share in the revelation that “not blinking” (Cruz’s recommended course of action) is not a strategy. Those who knew better and who hyped Cruz as a brilliant conservative might want to do some reflecting.
Republicans are greeted this morning by another poll, this one from Pew, showing Americans overwhelmingly opposed to a shutdown. Republicans will insist it is the president’s and the Senate’s fault, that Harry Reid didn’t work on Sunday, that the Republicans offered alternatives and the country hates Obamacare. That is all true, but that does not solve their problem. They have nowhere to go but to cave. The only question is how quickly and how clumsily.
The good news? There isn’t a single GOP governor in the country who has allowed a shutdown on his watch. One or more will run against D.C. dysfunction and have a darn good argument that none of those inside the Beltway can be trusted with the presidency.