Sunday, September 22, 2013

How Much Worse Can It Get?

The Republican party is torn between two factions at the moment.  The first, the traditional mainstream wing of the party, which seeks generally to implement conservative, free-market solutions to major problems and shrink the size and scope of government but recognizes that there is room for accomplishing these legislative goals through compromise and that their survival relies on the public viewing their work as somewhat functional.  This wing is led by the GOP's old guard, principally its Senate members.  John McCain is certainly a member of this wing.  I suspect John Boehner is a member of this wing as well, although he is navigating a minefield with a GOP House that is not mostly of this wing.

The hard-right members that dominate the GOP House caucus now have an entirely different agenda - win on every issue at every time at all costs.  If the goal is to defund Obamacare, there is no government agency that they won't shut down, no debt that they won't default on and no measure of loss to their party that is too great in the pursuit of their goal.

So, here we sit again, on the brink of shutting down the government (October 1st) and potentially defaulting on our debt (sometime in late October, although that date could conceivably push later if the government shuts down, since expenditures will fall quickly.)

All of this poses a number of key questions about the GOP strategy.  I'm not sure how many of these are real and how many are rhetorical, but I'll give it a try:
(1) If Obamacare will be so bad, why not let it happen?
The world won't end if our health insurance system is ineffective for a year.  If Obamacare is the wrecking ball of a disaster that the GOP claims it will be, then the public outrage calling for its repeal will be impossible to ignore, even for Democrats.  It will quickly be repealed, replaced, modified, etc.  The goal will be accomplished.

But that's not what the GOP thinks.  Ted Cruz thinks that if it isn't stopped prior to implementation - he has stated that once the subsidies start, they will be impossible to stop, with an American public addicted to the drug of free money from the government.

This is idiotic on multiple levels.  First of all, it is estimated that only between 4% and 6% of Americans will get the subsidies.  That is because most will continue to receive health care from their employers and those on Medicare and Medicaid (the second largest chunk of the population) will continue to receive benefits as before.

Second, it is a pretty direct insult to the intelligence of the American electorate.  We are so stupid that we will never oppose an entitlement, even a bad one?  Besides being elitist, it is historically false - welfare reform in the 1990s is a prototype for reforming entitlements.  So was raising the Social Security age by 2 years.

Could the real fear be that people will either ultimately like the program or at worst feel neutrally about it?

(2) Do they really think they will win?
I grant you, the President has shown extreme ineptitude at negotiating these sorts of situations in the past.  But does anyone honestly think he will agree to a defunding or a delay of his signature legislative accomplishment?  Particularly when Republicans are poised to be blamed for all the ill effects of a government shutdown or a default?

So if this isn't about winning, what is it about?  Why drive massive uncertainty into our economy over a battle that you will lose?

(3) How can they possibly think this is good strategy?
The GOP is sitting pretty for 2014 at the moment.  President Obama has an approve-disapprove in the -10 to -12 range, which would historically imply a very poor showing for his party in the mid-terms.  Republicans should be plotting their strategy to pad their House majority and to retake the Senate, both very achievable goals against this backdrop.

Instead, the GOP risks alienating the swing voters likely to vote for them out of disapproval of the President.  They risk, once again, giving the Senate away to the Democrats, which makes their positioning harder.

They should be thinking about how to control the House, the Senate and the White House in 2016.  Then they can repeal Obamacare without worry about causes defaults or shutdowns.  Instead, they seem intent on losing ground.

There is plenty to criticize about the President's handling of matters budgetary.  But House Republicans take the cake by a wide margin for irresponsibility.

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