For some in the public, it is an all too familiar scene. The hype, the build up — then the actual bout lasting one and half minutes of the first round. For those who have followed the Republican Party in their on again, off again challenges to the Obama administration the question has always been will they fight this time? Perhaps the biggest surprise in the the House voting to defund Obamacare (while preserving the other funding needed to keep the bureaucracy going) is how much spine they’ve shown. All but one Republican Congressman voted to defund and two Democrats even crossed the aisle to join them.
That can only mean Congressmen are feeling the heat from their constituents, which should be no surprise since polls show the program is unpopular. President Obama explains its bad reputation as the product of “a lot of misinformation, most of it political, paid for by either the Republican Party, or various conservative groups”. Either that or it really is bad law.
However, as the left-wing Daily Kos noted more than a year ago, the most disliked part of Obamacare is the “Obama” part . They wrote, “obamacare [is] unpopular, unless it’s not called Obamacare”. The association of the program with Obama is its biggest negative, as if the President were a proxy for his health program, and the fight over it a referendum on him.
By some extraordinary act of carelessness, omission or vanity, Democratic strategists have allowed the program — and it’s no beauty — to become synonymous with the President himself. Not surprisingly conservative strategists have taken advantage by borrowing a page from Saul Alinsky’s book and personalizing the issue because its more effective that way. After all, “Obama shutting down the government” is much more incendiary than the idea of hundreds of nameless Congressmen doing the same thing. Andy McCarthy noted that a bill defunding Obamacare (but funding everything else) had the effect of putting the onus on the President personally, even if in technical fact it is really over to Harry Reid.
Obama is talking a brave game right now about how he won’t even entertain a budget that erases Obamacare – he vows a veto and a shutdown. But his political position is untenable, even with the media carrying his water. He will be grinding things to a halt to force Obamacare on the public even though he himself has slashed Obamacare for the benefit of big business and members of Congress. By agreeing to fund the rest of government, Republicans allow Obama a face-saving out: He can tell his base he preserved record-spending on social welfare programs, and that while Obamacare has been delayed, it is still the law and he will be back pushing for funding it in next year’s budget when the executive branch is more prepared to implement it.
The counterthreat to “Congress shutting down the government” is the more powerful Alinsky formulation “Obama is shutting down the government”. Those who say it can’t be done should recognize it’s done already. Everyone calls it “Obamacare”; nobody calls it the “Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act”.
Harry Reid and company will almost certainly reinstate the Obamacare money provisions in the Senate and return the bill to the House for reconsideration. Then it’s back to Square One in a sense.
But this time, not really.
Where the nearly solid GOP vote to defund becomes significant is that it has anchored the half-hearted and wavering Republican rabble to a flag on Little Round Top. How they got there nobody knows but they got there. Whether they will stand their ground or run at Obama’s first onset remains to be seen. The usual pre-surrender signals are already being sent, for the GOP is already telegraphing a willingness to retreat down the hill to the field of Debt Limits, where they are more accustomed to do battle over a total spend. There the Pork Barrel Dragoons and the Log Rolling Hussars will display their prowess, ably supported by opportune charges of the Horsetrading Cavalry. The WSJ writes:
The conservatives’ victory Friday could be short-lived. The Senate in the coming week is expected to restore the health-care money and throw the government-funding bill back to the House. Republican leaders are hoping they will build up enough momentum to pressure Democrats to accept health-law cuts or other budget concessions during the debt-limit fight instead.
“The key thing is we are going to negotiate over the debt limit. The president isn’t going to be able to say, ‘I’m just simply not going to talk with anybody,’ ” Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.) told reporters Friday.
So for all their steadfastness so far, nothing is sure about the GOP. Those who from Syria and Iraq believe that President Obama is unequaled at turning victory into defeat may have never seen the Republican pell-mell retreat machine in action. What a sight that is to see: to the rear, run! But for the moment they have not fled yet and are holding uneasily on the hill with their teeth chattering like castanets in their heads.
But if politicians are timorous they are also opportunists. Nothing appeals to them like their own self-interest. Since the labors before the GOP resolve into three parts: how to cut money from the bloated budget (always painful), how to kill defective legislation (less painful) and how to score political points (very soothing) — the task for those opposed to Obamacare is to create enough political reward for the Republicans to endure the pain of killing enough bad legislation and cutting enough unnecessary spending.
Make it worth their while to stand fast, and they will hold firm out of pure self-interest. For Obama, however, the stakes are much higher. He needs to win because a fundamental retreat on Obamacare will knock the pins out from under the remainder of his Presidency. This introduces an element of asymmetry and changes the calculus.
Against an ordinary President, Republicans would not have the sufficient incentive to go for the kill. But the political payoff for beating Obama in his weakened state is extraordinary. It would not just result in scoring political points, it would turn Obama into a Lame Duck. Just as Obama’s name has burdened his health care bill with baggage, so too has his shaky political position in the fight upped the political rewards for defeating him. The Republicans can lose this fight and be no more worse off than they are now. But if Obama loses this one consequences are much graver.
Will the Pork Barrel Dragoons, the Log Rolling Hussars and the Horsetrading Cavalry see this? They are not accustomed to seeing it, so long has it been since they’ve even raised their snouts from the trough. But if they could but look … it’s important for their constituency to point it out.
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