RSS
Can Republicans avoid blame for a government shutdown?
The GOP claims that it's Democrats who are unwilling to compromise
 
Ted Cruz says Democrats would be at fault for a government shutdown.
Ted Cruz says Democrats would be at fault for a government shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With a potential government shutdown looming at midnight on Monday, House Republicans remain opposed to passing a continuing resolution unless it in some way delays or chips away at the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate has flatly rejected the idea of approving anything but a clean budget bill, meaning that if Republicans refuse to give up their quixotic fight against ObamaCare, the government will close come Tuesday.

But Republicans have cast their efforts in the standoff as "compromises," and accused Democrats of being unwilling to bargain.

"The House has twice now voted to keep the government open," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Sunday on Meet the Press. "If we have a shutdown, it will only be because when the Senate comes back, Harry Reid says, 'I refuse even to talk.'"

Yet as many have repeatedly pointed out, Republicans are the only ones asking for concessions here — and holding the economy as hostage.

Democrats are merely asking that the government continue to be funded at sequester levels — the reduced spending amounts both parties agreed to, and which were triggered when lawmakers couldn't find an alternate way to pare spending. Republicans are now making demands on top of those they already won, the difference being that the latest are designed to undercut ObamaCare.

Plus, the very idea of demanding concessions in exchange for not deliberately closing the government is a deeply unpopular argument. A CBS News/New York Times survey last week found that 80 percent of Americans said threatening a government shutdown was an unacceptable way to approach budget talks. And a CNN poll out Monday shows that 46 percent of Americans would blame congressional Republicans for a shutdown, while 36 percent would blame President Obama.

A shutdown is therefore "likely to be punishing for the GOP," says The New Republic's Noam Scheiber, who argues it could even be politically worse than the 1996 shutdown was for the party.

Americans become deeply suspicious when one party tries to use a debate over an urgent piece of legislation (funding to avoid a shutdown in this case, an extension of an expiring tax cut back in 2011) as an opportunity to win unrelated concessions. In the same way that Republicans tipped their hand when they insisted on upending the entire unemployment insurance system as the price of allowing the payroll tax cut and merely extending unemployment benefits, they have tipped their hand this time by insisting on defunding ObamaCare as the price of keeping the government open. (That's why opposition to defunding ObamaCare rises from 44-38 to 59-19 when it's tied to a shutdown threat.) [New Republic]

The GOP's high-stakes demands over ObamaCare, tacked to an unrelated spending bill, make it clear they will take the most blame, agrees the American Conservative's Daniel Larison. And, he argues, their willingness to let the government shut down only serves to reaffirm Americans' "nagging sense that they will wreck things again once they have control."

What makes the party's current position so absurd is that the attempt to use the threat of a shutdown to extract concessions on the ACA serves only to remind most Americans why they don't want the party to control more of the government than it does. At best, the GOP is proving itself unready to govern, and that makes it considerably less likely that voters are going to trust the party with control of the Senate or the White House. That means many more years of picking fights that the party can't win. [American Conservative]

It doesn't help that voters have already made up their minds. After boisterous battles in 2011 and 2012 over government spending, Democrats swept last November's elections, winning the White House and picking up seats in both legislative chambers. As William Saletan at Slate puts it:

What [Republicans are] hiding is the absurdity of the Republican position: That a law passed by both houses of Congress, fully debated in a subsequent presidential election, and unsuccessfully challenged in more than 40 legislative votes by the losing side should be subject to repeal, defunding or delay because a single party, narrowly controlling a single chamber of Congress, otherwise refuses to fund the rest of the government. [Slate]

Even Karl Rove thinks Republicans are blowing it. "No sentient being," believes the defund strategy will work, he wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week. In pursuing it anyway, he warned, Republicans risk driving Independents to vote Democratic, thus hampering the party even more in future elections.

The desire to strike at ObamaCare is praiseworthy. But any strategy to repeal, delay, or replace the law must have a credible chance of succeeding or affecting broad public opinion positively.

The defunding strategy doesn't. Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it. [Wall Street Journal]

 
Jon Terbush is an associate editor at TheWeek.com covering politics, sports, and other things he finds interesting. He has previously written for Talking Points Memo, Raw Story, and Business Insider.

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week