Republican leaders are trying to convince conservatives in Congress that instead of threatening to shutdown the government unless President Obama agrees to defund Obamacare, they should refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless he agrees to delay the law. This is better, because to save his signature achievement, Obama would not be risking the annoyance of some closed national parks, but the headache of a global financial crisis. The debt ceiling is a "good leverage point" to get some concessions on Obamacare, an aide to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Reuters, confirming earlier reporting from The National Review. The GOP would be doing one better than Rahm Emanuel, who famously said shortly after Obama's election in 2008, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." In order for Republicans to exploit a crisis, they'll have to make one. That is what failing to raise the debt limit would be.
Earlier this month, The Washington Examiner's Conn Carroll reported that House leadership "firmly believes that attaching anything 'new' to a continuing resolution is politically untenable, while passing a higher debt limit, without attaching anything new, is also politically impossible." Trading the threat of shutdown for the threat of not raising the debt limit is crazy, The Washington Post's Ezra Klein writes, because, "The former is an inconvenience. The latter is a global financial crisis."
Republican leaders are working hard to kill the defund-or-shutdown idea. Sens. Tom Coburn, Richard Burr, Mitch McConnell, and Bob Corker have all said it's a bad idea. Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole said in July it would risk the GOP's majority in the House. At a town hall this month, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger told constituents the same thing. As The Atlantic's Molly Ball reports, they're up against a well-funded campaign:
The groups include Heritage Action, which is spending $550,000 on online ads in Republican districts and holding rallies in nine cities; an event in Dallas featuring Senator Ted Cruz drew 1,000 attendees on Tuesday. The Senate Conservatives Fund is airing radio ads against three non-supportive Republican senators, including Burr. Meanwhile, two more national grassroots organizations, the Tea Party Patriots and ForAmerica, areteaming up on their own six-state tour and online ad campaign, which involves calling eight Republican senators "chickens" for refusing to support defunding.
Ball asked Scott Hogenson, the campaign manager for ForAmerica's "Defund Obamacare" effort, what the point of this was, given that Obama was unlikely to sign something defunding his signature legislative achievement. "Well, what will work? What will work? So much of the discussion of this has centered around the process," instead of policy, Hogenson said. Ball pointed out, "It sounds like you're saying you have no idea, in practice, how this could actually get through Congress." Hogenson basically confirmed that: "Well, anything can succeed, just like anything can fail. You have to at least try."
But maybe Republican leaders are trying to take advantage of that ignorance. Despite what some GOP members of Congress have said, it's very unlikely they'd lose a majority in the House, even if there's a shutdown. And the Post's Klein says GOP leaders are trying to entice conservatives to trade away the shutdown in exchange for an even bigger confrontation with Obama a few months later — one they can't possibly follow through on. When that deadline approaches, Klein writes, they'll just have to "start working, aggressively and assiduously, to find someway around that disaster, too." Notably, a GOP leadership aide said the debt limit idea wasn't set in stone earlier this month, telling Talking Points Memo that Obamacare "will certainly come up — in some form or fashion — in the debt limit debate." An aide expressed doubt to Reuters, too, saying, "There are plenty of discussions ongoing but no decisions at this point." We'll have to wait till we get past the government funding debate to find out what kind of confrontation with Obama would be even better than not raising the debt ceiling.