Sen. Ted Cruz speaking on the Senate floor. (R-Tex.) (Associated Press) Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) speaking on the Senate floor.  (Senate TV via Associated Press)

Our liberal friends, always so concerned about the health and well-being of the GOP, admonish us not to “overplay” our hand on Obamacare. The same might have been true of their victory in the shutdown fight. Holding firm on forcing Obamacare to go forward as planned doesn’t look so smart now. But Democrats are right about one thing: Republicans have a nasty habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. The good news for Republicans (and for those concerned about their well-being) is that there is little sign they are doing so.

Their rhetoric and analysis is no less biting and negative than liberal columnists infuriated that Obamacare isn’t the liberal nirvana they had hoped it would be. The GOP’s current demands are in the nature of disclosure (who could quibble with that?) and delaying the individual mandate so as not to hurt those who were victimized by the spinning circle on their screen. That’s essentially the same position as Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

There are also some positive signs the GOP is keeping itself in check. One sign is the parameters of the budget talks to be headed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Reuters reports:

Ryan told Reuters in an interview that simply maintaining the automatic “sequester” cuts was the fallback position for Republicans if Democrats do not agree to substitute longer-term savings on expensive federal benefits programs.

“We have spending cuts coming. The question is, can we get something that’s better than this?” said Ryan, last year’s Republican vice presidential nominee. “If we can get an agreement, it’s obviously going to be better than the status quo. . . . If we focused on doing some big grand bargain, like those prior efforts . . . then I don’t think we’ll be successful because we’ll focus on our differences. Each party will demand that the other compromises a core principle and then we’ll get nothing done,” he said.

This is, for the shutdown squad, a lesson in what “leverage” really is. It is having something the other guy wants (e.g. relief from sequester caps) that you can live with or trade for something better. It is not blowing yourself and the country up. To his credit, Ryan has always wanted that big or medium bargain. He is, however, smart enough to know what is possible and to maximize the GOP’s chances of getting something the party wants.

Republicans would be wise to offer refuge to those millions who have been or shortly will be kicked off coverage, who have coverage costs go up under Obamacare and/or who are suffering a gap in coverage because of the administration’s incompetence. James Capretta suggests:

The GOP can strengthen its hand further by moving legislation to protect people who are losing their individual plans. Many millions of these currently insured Americans have already received or will be receiving soon notices from their insurers advising them of the termination of their existing plans, effective January 1. Insurers are halting these plans because Obamacare’s rules won’t let them continue to offer coverage (even outside the exchanges) under today’s rules, which generally allow lower premiums for younger and healthier consumers. But with nearly impossible to navigate, individual market enrollees are losing their current plans without access to a viable alternative. And the clock is ticking. Those losing their coverage on January 1 will need to have a new plan in place by December 15 to ensure no lapse in coverage. And many would no doubt prefer to have a new plan picked sooner, to be on the safe side.

The GOP should come to their rescue with legislation allowing insurers to continue to offer the same plans they are offering today. Some insurers may choose not to reopen plans they have already decided to close, but others will likely resurrect their closed plans. If’s problems persist into November, as they almost certainly will, legislation of this kind will have great resonance with an anxious electorate.

Let the Democrats be the party for Obamacare; the Republicans can be the party for the victims of Obamacare, who are almost certain to outnumber the beneficiaries.

The GOP leadership also is prepared this time and has voiced no interest whatsoever in letting the shutdown squad drive the party into a ditch again. Senate minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said bluntly on Face the Nation, “A number of us were saying back in July that this strategy could not and would not work, and, of course, it didn’t. So there will not be another government shutdown. You can count on that.” Likewise in the House, hardliners are singing the praises these days of their speaker, who certainly does not want to repeat in January the shenanigans of October. The right flank will either follow Speaker John Boehner’s lead to avoid a shutdown or find themselves on the losing side of a lopsided vote. (Boehner in January would go to Democrats, as he did in the final vote to end the shutdown, rather than let the crazies have their way.)

And finally, the shutdown squad members, although they won’t admit it, seem to recognize that it would be a mistake to try the shutdown nonsense again. How do we know this? They are pivoting to talk of the immigration reform bill (trying now to stop that from emerging from committee). They are not rallying their base to try the shutdown one more time; rather, they are absorbed either justifying their behavior or trying to move on to the next Obamacare phase. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is offering legislation to delay the individual mandate, with zero tie in to the funding and/or debt ceiling votes next year. (“And there’s no doubt that I would like to derail ObamaCare. But that’s not what this bill does. All this bill says, all this bill says is: You can’t penalize people until the Web site works.”)

So our liberal friends can rest easy. So far no overreach. But we will keep an eye out.