The Republican Party is spending its summer engaged in traditional, old-timey fun, like this massive tug-of-war between congressional leadership and conservative members and activists over Obamacare. The leadership is diligently trying to pull the party toward an intricate legislative solution to the dispute, while the base is organizing all of its friends over to yank everyone off a cliff.
That's a little strong, but perhaps not too much. There's a to-hell-with-it feel to the Republican base's opposition to Obamacare. If Democrats in the Senate or the White House won't vote to kill the program, a program central to conservative critique of Obama and the opposition and the government, then shut it all down. Don't fund anything, let government rot.
Which makes sense given that the majority of those supporting the tactic don't actually work for the government. The Hill reports that members of Congress are increasingly hearing that demand out in their districts. One example:
[Rep. Michael Burgess of Texas] said the federal government’s move this month to subsidize health insurance for lawmakers and staff required to enter ObamaCare’s exchanges is acting as an "accelerant" and "driving people into a froth" about shutting the government down over ObamaCare funding.
"I'm hearing a lot of anger that is right beneath the surface, ready to erupt," Burgess said. At one town hall, Burgess said support for the defunding threat was "virtually unanimous" when he asked for a show of hands.
That's anecdotal, but it's not accidental. At RedState.com, a conservative blog / action center, Erick Erickson listed several dozen upcoming town hall meetings at which he encouraged readers to call for shutting down the government in lieu of moving forward with Obamacare. "Republican Leaders are preparing a series of shiny objects to distract you," he warns. "You must stay focused."
[M]ost Republicans are going to vote to fund Obamacare. But they have a plan to make you clap like a seal by dangling a shiny object in front of you. They are going to get the individual mandate delayed — not defunded, not permanently killed, but delayed a year.
Bark, bark, bark, bark, bark — bark louder you conservative seals. Clap for your sardine.
This is just plain ol' organizing. In another context, it would be critiqued for being an echo of Saul Alinsky. And it's why the Republican leadership — almost entirely in the eternally rambunctious House — has a legitimate problem on its hands.
In a post at Salon on Thursday, Alex Pareene ably described the fix in which Boehner and Cantor find themselves as they tug, tug, tug. Noting that a government shutdown wouldn't actually prevent Obamacare from moving forward (as we pointed out earlier this week), Pareene explains why it doesn't matter — and that it's not just unelected voters who feel that way.
The House members Boehner's trying to walk back from the ledge don't read the Times or the Post. They don’t care what Brookings or the CBO or CRS say. They believe every "nonpartisan" or "objective" information source to be a part of the vast liberal conspiracy, and they rely for their facts and predictions strictly on sources explicitly aligned with the conservative movement.
Take Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is smart enough to know that he's playing a game of politics, not one of policy. In an interview with the Daily Caller, Cruz outlines the pretext under which conservatives are suggesting that the effort can work, despite requiring the Senate Democrats and President Obama to be on-board. In short, pass a funding measure that excludes Obamacare in the House, and then filibuster any Senate bill that includes it. Cruz then continues:
We can get the votes we need to defund Obamacare if the grassroots rise up in huge numbers to force their elected officials to do the right thing before late September. If this happens and if Republicans have the political will to stand firm for their principles, we can succeed. That is why I am spending the next 50 days reaching out to conservatives, activists, and citizens to get them involved.
Organizing. (Both for the budget fight, of course, and Cruz's 2016 bid.) More public pressure makes the machinations of Boehner and Cantor, fumbling around for the pressure release valve, seem less and less relevant in the moment. If you're curious, Erickson was right. According to the National Review's Robert Costa, who's been an ear to the ground on the Republican debate, the current plan to vent the steam is to trade a rollback of sequestration to a reduction in social safety net payments (something the president's budget suggested anyway) and to pass a resolution funding the government, using the debt ceiling fight as leverage to postpone Obamacare for a year.
That's the sardine Boehner's waving around to distract his tug-of-war opponents. The good news for the Speaker is that August is almost over. Meaning that Congress will need to schlep back to Washington, away from angry constituents with YouTube accounts, and actually start having to work this thing out. Hopefully, in Boehner's mind, while still standing atop the cliff.