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September 16, 2013

Obamacare Defunding Disarray

They don't call us the stupid party for nothing. The GOP this month has taken a winning proposition -- opposition to Obamacare -- and turned it into an embarrassing intraparty murder-suicide pact.

Avik Roy, writing at National Review, explains:

The original strategy of the shutdown shock-jocks was that the Republican-led House would pass a CR that would defund Obamacare. The Democrat-led Senate would pass its own CR that would fund Obamacare. The impasse would lead to a government shutdown, and the shutdown would be so scary to Democrats that they would eventually cave and agree to defund Obamacare.

There are a number of problems with this approach. Other than the obvious — that it would never work — it would allow the Senate Democrats to gut the Budget Control Act of 2011, a.k.a. the “sequester,” which has already achieved a remarkable amount of spending control and deficit reduction. As Stephen Moore noted in the Wall Street Journal last month, the sequester is “the first time federal expenditures have fallen for two consecutive years since the end of the Korean War.”

This was the plan of Sens. Lee and Cruz that we've written about here for weeks, that we've talked about in the podcasts, that we've gone 'round and 'round discussing. According to the folks that Roy dubs "Obamacare defeatists," if Obamacare is not defunded now, the GOP can simply give up forever. They have to make this the political equivalent of a life-or-death situation because only in such dire circumstances can such a chancy gamble be justified.

In fact, the conservative argument is that there is no choice, that it must be done now or it will be done never because once insurance subsidies kick in, Obamacare could never be repealed.

As I have discussed several times, this is untrue. Delay the individual mandate and you delay the insurance subsidies . . . perhaps long enough to get the sixty Senate votes, plus a presidential signature to repeal Obamacare. Not even the conservatives admit we have those votes and signature now. Which makes their proposal lose-lose. Not only will their idea not lead to Obamacare defunding (or repeal or even delay), their idea will undo the sequester and saddle the GOP with responsibility for a government shutdown that Lee and Cruz insist they do not want.

House leadership, by contrast, has offered a plan that preserves the sequester and forces the Senate to take an up or down vote on Obamacare defunding.

Under 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.

For his effort to defund Obamacare while preserving the sequester cuts, Cantor's strategy has been sneeringly labeled by the likes of Erick Erickson "the hug it out strategy." Sen. Cruz calls folks who support the plan "the surrender caucus." But, of course, all the namecalling in the world won't defund Obamacare. Nor will it prevent the disaster that conservative namecallers claim they want to avoid: the subsidies.

Which is why Cantor's plan has a second step, for when the Senate Democrats -- vocally supported by President Obama -- refuse to defund Obamacare even as polls show deepening opposition to the law.

Roy explains:

Subsequently, during the debt-ceiling negotiations, House Republicans would trade a one-year delay in Obamacare — including its unpopular individual mandate — for a fiscally comparable easing of the sequester spending caps.

Basically, it’s a win-win. The Cantor plan would give conservatives an opportunity to persuade Senate Democrats to defund Obamacare and would require those Democrats to vote on defunding, whether they want to or not. If defunding fails in the Senate, the rest of the government remains funded, avoiding the shutdown that Cruz et al. claim they don’t seek and preserving the sequester’s caps on discretionary spending for future negotiations over Obamacare.

To review: the Cantor plan would preserve the sequester, force Democrats to vote again for the ever-more unpopular Obamacare, and delay Obamacare implementation -- including the dreaded subsidies. As Roy says, this is a win-win.

Which is why conservative intransigence is so frustrating. They insist that the GOP do something self-destructive and slander anyone who won't get in line. That's not a formula for success. So why do conservatives require a desperate and futile action?

Roy's got two theories, a cynical one and a principled one. And you should click over and read them. I've stolen enough of that post. Go read the whole thing and then ask yourself why the GOP is struggling, despite a deeply unpopular president who seems only to support deeply unpopular policies.

I will say that Roy gives outside conservative groups way to much credit by suggesting that they're operating under a principled theory. Setting congressfolk aside (although, you know how much a dislike politicians), I do not believe that outside groups are as principled as they claim and I've got hundreds of strident fundraising emails stuffed in my inbox to call the question. These are folks who make bank by setting Republicans against Republicans and, indeed, two of the loudest voices calling for a shutdown showdown have spent more money this year on attack ads against Republicans than the official Democratic party apparatus: the DSCC, the DCCC, and the DNC -- combined.

So we have on the one hand a viable strategy for attacking Obamacare that holds off the disastrous subsidies despite the Senate and White House and that holds on to the successful sequester cuts. And we have on the other hand a murder-suicide pact in which conservatives shoot their fellow Republicans in the head, then turn the gun on themselves by means of a failed government shutdown that ultimately fails to defund Obamacare.

I mean, defeat is the anticipated conservative outcome here, right? Conservatives haven't suddenly gained faith in their fellow Republicans, have they? Are conservatives so certain that Republican House members will persevere through a shutdown that a majority of the public blames on them? I'm not. But, then again, I have always been a bit more cynical about government.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 11:28 AM

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