Today’s Wall Street Journal’s review and outlook gave a realistic opinion on a GOP shutdown strategy to “navigate between the ‘defunders’ and Barack Obama;”
President Obama defaulted to his usual strategy Tuesday of denouncing Republicans for the partial government shutdown that began at midnight even as he refuses to negotiate. He’s betting that his bully pulpit, amplified by his media echoes, will cause the GOP to blink first.
And the truth is that Mr. Obama and the GOP’s own “defund ObamaCare” caucus have put Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans in a difficult spot. If they now surrender empty-handed, their Ted Cruz faction will denounce them as sellouts. But the longer they hold out for compromise from an AWOL President, the more chances increase that the public will turn against GOP governance.
We opposed this shutdown strategy precisely because the congressional math made this box canyon so clearly inevitable. But now that it’s here, the question is what Republicans can do to navigate an honorable exit that accomplishes some of their goals.
The strategy of the defund faction seems to be for the House to hold “firm,” as Mr. Cruz puts it, and wait for Democrats to break. The public won’t notice much inconvenience from the furloughs of 800,000 or so employees in this view. And to the extent they do notice, the voters will blame the President as much as the GOP. Sooner or later Mr. Obama will sue for peace and agree to delay his signature legislative achievement for a year if not longer.
That would be great if it worked, though Mr. Obama hardly looked worried on Tuesday as he assailed the “Republican shutdown.” He rolled out his usual parade of horribles, including damage to the economy.
He’s exaggerating the harm, just as he did on the sequester spending cuts in January. The economy doesn’t depend on nonessential government spending for growth. And if the showdown ended with serious reforms that reduced Washington’s claim on the private economy, it would be worth the political price and help growth.
Yet that still leaves the not-so-small matter of what Republicans do if Mr. Obama won’t compromise and if the public continues by 2 to 1 to disapprove of using the shutdown to end ObamaCare. The Presidency is a powerful platform, and the executive branch can make the shutdown more onerous if it wants to. Pressure will build on Republicans to break ranks in the kind of unruly retreat that would demoralize their own voters. A long shutdown followed by surrender would be the worst possible result.
Our advice is to give up on the impossible task of defunding or delaying ObamaCare at the current moment and focus instead on a quick if smaller policy victory. The House has already voted for three specific policies that might be achievable if they became the GOP’s main political focus.
The biggest potential victory would be a delay in the individual mandate to buy insurance, matching Mr. Obama’s own unilateral delay of the business mandate to provide insurance to employees. The White House would resist, but Senate Democrats would have to explain why they favor business over individuals.
Another possibility would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s $29 billion tax on medical device makers. The 2.3% levy applies to revenue, not profits, which makes it especially destructive in the life sciences industry that is a rare growth success these days.
The Senate has already endorsed repeal on a nonbinding 79-20 vote, with 33 Democrats in support. Yet it’s a sign of how politically unhinged some of the “defund” Republicans have become that they’re denouncing repeal of this punitive tax as “crony capitalism.” This is Bernie Sanders territory, and GOP leaders ought to say so.
Perhaps the best chance to move Democrats is Louisiana Senator David Vitter’s amendment that would annul the exemption from ObamaCare that the White House carved out for Congressmen and their staff. These professionals will receive special subsidies unavailable to everybody else on the insurance exchanges, and preserving this deeply unpopular privilege would be a brutal vote for Democrats.
Here, too, however, the complication is the bizarre opposition from the GOP’s defund caucus. The Senate Conservatives Fund, which is run by allies of the Heritage Foundation’s Jim DeMint, blasted an email on Monday asserting that “some Republicans in Washington are secretly planning to use the elimination of the congressional exemption as an excuse to fund all of Obamacare and force millions of Americans into the program.” The email also accused these Republicans of “lying.”
The irony here is that a main plank of the Gingrich revolution of 1994 was ending Congress’s habit of exempting itself from the laws it passes for everyone else. Yet now some conservatives portray equal treatment under the law as a betrayal and “lie.”
It’s true that none of these measures would defund ObamaCare, but then the biggest lie of this shutdown drama is that a minority of the Republican caucus in one branch of Congress can repeal ObamaCare as long as Mr. Obama is in the Oval Office.
We support the Republican effort to get the best deal they can, especially in the face of Mr. Obama’s cynicism. But sooner or later the GOP will have to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling that expires two weeks from now. Republicans will have made their point about fighting hard on principle while noting that to achieve more on ObamaCare they’ll need more Senate Republicans after 2014 and a GOP President after 2016. Unlike much of what you hear these days out of Washington, this has the added advantage of being true.