This week, President Obama claimed that the chaos in Washington, D.C., was about "one thing: The Republican obsession with the Affordable Care Act."
Yet four days into the first government shutdown in 17 years, Republicans seem to be dropping their focus on ObamaCare. Indeed, some aren't even sure what they're fighting for anymore. Here is Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R- Ind.) explaining why he opposes sending a clean continuing resolution to the Senate to restore government funding: "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."
Democrats, understandably, jumped on his comment to vent their frustration.
It's hard to make a deal with Tea Party Republicans when they say "I don't know what I want." http://t.co/PDZAJdVJX1
— Sen. Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) October 3, 2013
Further muddying the GOP's position is the fact that ObamaCare has already rolled out. "With people already signing up for insurance under ObamaCare and insurers already selling insurance under ObamaCare," write Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas at The Washington Post, "it's no longer credible to promise repeal or delay."
If this is not about ObamaCare anymore, then what does the GOP want?
"Contrary to everything they told us, they didn’t really close the government to stop ObamaCare," argues Slate's William Saletan. "They did it, and will keep doing it, to gain leverage in the coming fight over the debt ceiling."
The U.S. government is expected to hit its borrowing limit around October 17, an event that the Treasury Department says could lead to a repeat of the Great Recession. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems focused on avoiding a debt default, hoping to get Democrats to agree to "spending cuts and reforms" in exchange for a debt limit increase, reports The New York Times.
But previous reports indicate that Boehner's cuts and reforms essentially amount to Mitt Romney's economic platform during the 2012 election, an indication that the House GOP is using the threat of an economic meltdown to ram its agenda through even though it was rejected by voters.
Indeed, to some observers it appears that the GOP, in lurching wildly from one demand to the next, is merely expressing pent-up rage. Devoid of ideas, "what’s filled the vacuum is scorched-earth opposition to anything Barack Obama wants," says Josh Barro at Business Insider.
Whatever the GOP's reasons, "this is not just about ObamaCare anymore," as Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) tells The Washington Examiner.
The political risk is that voters may start to think they were drawn into a shutdown under false pretenses, the domestic equivalent of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. And we all know how well that turned out for the Republican Party.