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Why Trying to Defund Obamacare Is the Definition of Insanity

The effort by some Republicans on the Hill to shut down the government in order to prevent the implementation of Obamacare has officially jumped the shark and entered cloud cuckoo land. The Congressional Research Service, an arm of the Library of Congress, has issued a report, requested by Republican Senator Tom Coburn, which shows that even if the GOP is successful, Obamacare will roll forward anyway.

The CRS explanation for why a government shutdown wouldn't stop Obamacare from being implemented is straightforward:

"It appears that substantial ACA implementation might continue during a lapse in annual appropriations that resulted in a temporary government shutdown," the report said.

That's primarily due to two factors. First, the government can keep spending during a shutdown using "no-year discretionary funds" and reserves set aside for mandatory expenditures. The ACA specifically set aside billions of dollars for its own implementation that won't be touched by a shutdown.

Second, the report said ObamaCare could fall under one of the limited exceptions in which the government is allowed to allocate funds in lieu of a spending bill from Congress.

In short, the White House would have the money and the power to keep the ACA up and running even if the lights go dark in Washington.

But it appears that Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are not letting the facts stand in the way of an opportunity to get the juices flowing of the pro-shut-down conservatives in the base of the party. Cruz, especially, seems eager to burn some bridges by calling out Republican senators who don't agree with his quixotic quest, accusing them of having a "defeatist" approach to dealing with Obamacare. “I think they’re beaten down and they’re convinced that we can’t give a fight, and they’re terrified,” he said.

Or it could be that most Republicans on the Hill have faced up to the reality of the situation and, like any adult, are dealing with the world as it is, not as some less-mature members would wish it to be. The two-thirds of Republicans who think it a bad idea to shut down the government for absolutely no reason save a puckish desire to make the president look bad will suffer the political consequences -- not the loudmouths who call their brethren cowards and continue to insist that the facts can be ignored in order to achieve a result that simply isn't achievable.

Senator Lee's cynicism is especially repugnant:

Those of us who are Republicans and those of us to claim to be against ObamaCare, who happen to vote to fund it, will have a lot to pay, will have a lot to answer for with our constituents.

Lee said on Tuesday, "Defund it, or own it. If you fund it, you're for it."

Some of the leading critics of Cruz, Lee, and the rest of the pro-shut-down caucus -- like Tom Coburn and Bob Corker -- are among the most vociferous opponents of Obamacare. To question their bona fides and accuse them of political cowardice is ridiculous. This is especially true for Lee, who has latched on to the fake Obamacare defunding effort in order to do a little fundraising. He sent an email to supporters pleading for cash:

"As I told my good friend Sean Hannity last week, the upcoming budget vote is truly the last stop on the Obamacare express," Lee wrote. "We can’t afford to let this opportunity pass us by."

To do your part to save America, you are to "make an emergency contribution of $25, $35, $50, $100, $200 or whatever you can afford to my campaign right now, and help me continue spearheading the national effort to defund Obamacare before it’s too late."

It's already too late, but why allow reality to intrude on such a lovely fantasy? The problem is that the more obvious it becomes that you can't defund Obamacare, the more strident, mean-spirited, and insulting the shut-down caucus becomes toward their fellow Republicans who disagree.

One needs to ask why Cruz, Lee, and the rest of the pro-shut-down crowd are pushing the fantasy that Obamacare can be defunded. What kind of scam are they running? True, many of their supporters will dismiss the CRS report as some kind of plot to prevent the defunding of Obamacare, but what's their excuse? That they're as nutty as some of their supporters? One might suspect that they'd like to keep bashing Republicans who won't fight fights that can't be won because they look all the more "principled" to the slack-jawed crowd, with more reality-based Republicans seeming weak and squeamish by comparison. Or perhaps, like Alfred the butler describing a Burmese bandit in The Dark Knight, "some men just want to watch the world burn"

If it is some kind of conservative Götterdämmerung they want, they aren't likely to get it. There may be other reasons that Republicans will shut down the government, but it won't be over Obamacare funding.

One would think the leadership in the House and Senate would take a hand and defend members who are pushing back against this madness. Alas, what passes for Republican leadership in both chambers is allowing this internecine warfare to continue unabated. Speaker John Boehner, who doesn't have control of his caucus anyway, says that “no decisions have been made" about a possible shutdown, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, trying to beat back a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate, told reporters at his weekly press briefing:

I know they're going on on the House side as well. There's no particular announcement at this point, but you all are familiar with the various points of view about how we might go forward later this year.

A real profile in courage, those two.

Cruz said recently that a government shutdown wouldn't be that bad for the GOP:

“The sort of cocktail chatter wisdom that, ‘Oh, the shutdown was a disaster for Republicans,’ is not borne out by the data,” Cruz said.

Asked about polls finding that a majority opposed defunding the law, Cruz invoked “largely useless,” slanted polls put out by advocacy groups that blame a government shutdown on Republicans. In his view, it’s President Obama who is threatening to shut down the government by refusing to take out funding for Obamacare.

In a poll taken on Obamacare implementation by Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, there is plenty of good news for Republicans as far as how the public views the law.

- A plurality of Americans oppose Obamacare (47 percent-42 percent).

- Large majorities of Americans support dismantling the worst parts of Obamacare now (63-22) -- including 61 percent of independents.

- A strong plurality (49-39) of Americans believe healthcare is a responsibility of the individual, not a collective right.

Good news, indeed -- except for the response to this question:

Some people say that the health care reform law is so bad that an effort to repeal it should be attached to a bill necessary to keep the government running. Do you think it is a good idea or a bad idea for opponents of the health care reform law to risk shutting down the government in an effort to get rid of the law?

By a whopping 64-29 margin, the public thought this a bad idea.

Some Cruz supporters are saying the poll was "rigged." Oh, really? A poll commissioned by a Republican group, carried out by a Republican pollster, containing all sorts of good news for Republicans was "rigged" to show an outcome on one question that wasn't to the liking of a minority in the party?

Matt Lewis takes care of that nonsense:

Crossroads says they were describing it as it would likely be explained by the mainstream media, and this isn’t an absurd thing to say. I’m generally of the opinion that the President always has the bully pulpit (and Obama has a friendly media), so it is probably wise to overestimate Obama’s ability to frame the debate. What is more, the repeal question is question number 47 in the survey — meaning that (by the time the question was asked) respondents wouldn’t need to be reminded yet again that “the health reform law” is the same as Obamacare. Still, it would have been preferable had they called it “Obamacare.” And by not doing so, they invited skepticism.

Regardless, it seems that the only thing less popular than Obamacare itself is a government shutdown.

Cruz and his pals are kidding themselves that Republicans won't be in for the lion's share of the blame if there's a government shutdown. Not surprisingly, that doesn't seem to affect those determined to elevate futility to an art form. Joel Pollak at Breitbart thinks the effort to defund Obamacare by shutting down the government should go forward anyway -- "win(?) or lose":

The critics overlook the strongest case for attempting to defund Obamacare: namely, that doing so is an urgent political necessity to save a party rapidly losing touch with its voter base.

Conservatives--and, in fact, Americans in general--are eager for an effective opposition party. Among the many different explanations for why Mitt Romney lost in 2012--changing demographics, Tea Party suppression, the "47 percent" remark--the fact remains that he was the candidate least qualified to take on the policy most objectionable to voters.

First of all, there is no "win" in this "win or lose" scenario, only inglorious defeat. So to make the base happy, the GOP should throw sanity to the winds, say they are voting to shut down the government to defund Obamacare despite the fact that it's an impossibility to do so, and beat their breasts claiming...what? "Look at us! We're crazy enough to shut down the government for no reason at all! Vote for us!"

Sounds like a winner to me.