Sense and Function

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OCTOBER 5, 2013 4:07PM

The GOP Shutdown

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A delighted GOP shuts down the US Government - Picture: CNN
In a vain attempt to attack Obamacare as it rolled out its insurance exchanges, on October 1st, House Republicans decided to shut down the most powerful government in the world, calling on the Senate and the President to defund and delay the Affordable Care Act, in exchange for funding the government. That's the quick version.

Imagine Boehner threatening to wreck your house unless Obama gave up the Olympic gold medal he won three years ago. It's like that. That's already a fascinating story. But don't worry, it gets weirder.

When they agreed to shut down the government, Republicans were "ecstatic," "downright giddy," and "100% united." After all, this was the platform they ran on in the 2010 election, and four times that year, that's exactly what they threatened to do. The tumult led in 2011 to the first downgrade of the US credit rating in history.

Fast forward to 2013, when Karl Rove and the Wall Street Journal slammed the plan because there was no endgame, no concrete or positive result in sight. So why were House Republicans so thrilled to do it? They freely acknowledge that the attack on Obamacare would fail. Now they appear unable to articulate why they are shutting down the government. Rachel Maddow argues, persuasively, and terrifyingly, that they are excited simply because now they're really doing it"It was the legislative equivalent of saying, ‘Give me the money and nobody gets hurt,’" said Friedman.

Dave Cieslewicz and Thomas Friedman argue that the tactic is undemocratic. The way you repeal bills in the US democratic system, they argue, is to run for office and pass another bill to undo it. But the Republican party lost the 2012 election, which Democrats took as a sign that they wanted Obamacare to stay. They are attempting to rule from a minority position, so, in the words of Elizabeth Warren, hostage taking looks like the only thing they have left

And of course, Republicans are saying that it's Obama's fault. Karl Rove, with a masterful but desperate lie, claims that Obama wanted the shutdown because it was the only thing that could improve his approval rating. Dazzling! Sinister! 

Except Obama couldn't shut down the government on his own: to do that he would need to convince the entire Republican House to do something truly irrational, like make funding the government depend on defunding his signature accomplishment, and probably the most significant legislation of the last 25 years. Meanwhile, Republican intransigence is so extreme that if Obama asked them to vote for a tax cut, they could well find some way to say no.

By some estimates, the politicians pushing the shutdown strategy represent only 4 percent of the US population. Assuming Karl Rove is right that the defunding strategy will amount to self-destruction, it seems unlikely to endanger any seats, because of how far the gerrymandering has gone in Republicans' favor

Meanwhile, the shutdown is costing at least $300 million per day, and hundreds of thousands of employees are furloughed, shutting down agencies such as the IRS, the FDA, the EPA, and the Federal Housing Administration, and other agencies deemed non-essential.

The shutdown is not popular at all. Wall Street and the Chamber of Commerce oppose itOrdinary Americans oppose the Republican strategy of shutting down government to block Obamacare by an overwhelming 50-point margin (72-22). This is a much more intense opposition than when the GOP shut down the government in the 90s.

At least 49 Republicans -- enough to end the shutdown immediately -- object to the strategy, but the Republican Speaker John Boehner refuses to let the House vote on a bill to fund the government unconditionally, perhaps because the bill would pass with bipartisan support.

Republicans who oppose the shutdown have been vicious in their criticism of their own party. “...this was a flawed strategy from the beginning. If you’re going to take a hostage, take one the other side doesn’t want to have shot,” said Jonah Goldberg. Peter King said “This policy is madness.” Even House Deputy Whip Tom Cole said that shutting down the government to defund Obamacare is a “suicidal political tactic.” The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board called it a kamikaze mission, and added “Kamikaze missions rarely turn out well, least of all for the pilots.”

Much worse is to come, if, contrary to Boehner's promise, the shutdown extends into a fight over the debt ceiling, which must be raised on October 17th. 

There may be a silver lining to all of this, if the Republican party is chastened and starts to tack back toward the center. It has happened before, but they have a long way to go, and a habit of disbelieving in things that are staring them in the face.

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