Republican leadership have made it extremely clear they don't think shutting down the government unless President Obama defunds Obamacare is a good idea. They argue the Senate wouldn't pass a bill funding the government that defunded Obamacare, and Obama wouldn't sign it, and, besides, a shutdown would make the GOP so unpopular it could lose its majority in the House. Conservative groups demanding a shutdown don't have much of a case against the first two points, but they're working on facts to dispute the third. A new poll by the activist arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation argues a shutdown wouldn't risk the House.
The Heritage Action poll is being used to try and woo lawmakers from both sides of the aisle by suggesting that their constituents are comfortable with the idea of blocking Obamacare by shutting down the government. Heritage Action's pollster: "There is no present evidence that a move to defund Obamacare, and the potential of a partial government shutdown, would harm Republican prospects of holding the House majority." Those members of Congress whose districts were polled (ten in total) would be advised not to jump into action based on the data. The questions in the poll were loosely crafted to allow the most possible support for the idea of a "temporary slowdown in non-essential federal government operations" in order to halt the "full and immediate implementation of the Obama health care plan." And even then the tally was close.
It was also based on a flawed assumption. Republican Sen. Tom Coburn asked the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office is a shutdown would, in fact, stop the implementation of Obamacare. The response? "It appears that substantial [Affordable Care Act] implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that shut down the government" — in part because funding for the programs has already been allocated elsewhere. This was the point Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made publicly yesterday. "I'm for stopping ObamaCare," he said during a public appearance, "but shutting down the government will not stop ObamaCare."
Cruz, Paul, Heritage, et al. aren't advocating for the shutdown based on careful consideration of its likely effects. A post at the deeply conservative and optimistically activist blog Red State offered the faith-based response to McConnell. "In one sentence, Mitch McConnell has articulated why the dinosaur party of the past has failed us and why we will never score points while people like him are in charge." The post ends, "It is becoming clear that the only way we will ever stop Obamacare and the growth of government is by shutting down the establishment in primaries." (This strategy, we must note, is the one that gave the Senate candidates like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul.)
As Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin pointed out, the problem isn't Republican leadership opposition. "Even if we were to not pass the continuing resolution (to fund the federal government), you're not going to be able to defund Obamacare, absent of President Obama signing a law, which I think is highly unlikely," he said on Tuesday.
Doesn't matter. Heritage Action opposes Obamacare implementation because it's a good organizing tool. Cruz and Rubio and Paul oppose it because they're not worried about members of the House winning in 2014, they're worried about winning Iowa and New Hampshire in 2016. The core Republican constituency likes the idea of keeping up the fight against all odds; those politicians and organizations are happy to stoke the fires.
At The National Review, Avik Roy outlines a path which might appease those who demand a halt to Obamacare at all costs and those who admit the political reality: delaying Obamacare implementation for a year.
Byron York, in Town Hall, reports that “some Republicans are exploring the possibility of trading some of the changes Democrats want in the sequestration spending cuts in exchange for an Obamacare delay.” Details matter, but a real one-year delay in Obamacare is worth exploring, if there are Democrats who might support it.
Roy also points out another person who backs the idea — former Sen. Jim DeMint. DeMint now runs the Heritage Foundation, which seems to put his position at odds with the tack taken by the group's action arm. But Heritage isn't known for its internal consistency. As Roy pointed out in 2011, the core of Obamacare was Heritage's idea in the first place.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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