Government spending, Obamacare become game of political ‘chicken’

Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for advantage on government spending, Obamacare, and a threatened government shutdown. Within the GOP, there's intramural squabbling.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas (l.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R) of Utah during a news conference Thursday. Senator Cruz and Senator Lee are crusading against President Obama’s health-care law while infuriating many congressional Republicans with a tactic they consider futile, self-serving, and detrimental to the party’s political hopes in 2014.

The game of political chicken continued into the weekend as Republicans and Democrats maneuvered for advantage on government spending, "Obamacare," and a possible government shutdown.

Not long after House Republicans on Friday passed a spending bill stripped of funding for the Affordable Care Act, President Obama called Speaker John Boehner.

It was a short conversation.

Mr. Obama told Mr. Boehner he would not negotiate over the debt limit. The speaker told the president he was sorry to hear that. Have a nice weekend and goodbye.

Boehner and the GOP seem to be in more of a bind than Obama and congressional Democrats.

Conservatives in the GOP-controlled House (minus a few Republicans who voted against the bill Friday) were egged on by Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah – tea party favorites who vow to fight, Churchill-like, to kill Obamacare in the Senate.

With Democrats in control of the upper chamber and prominent Republicans there vocally opposed to what they see as a potentially suicidal effort to shut down the government over the new health-care law, there’s no way that could succeed.

“Americans hate government, but they don't want it to stop functioning," Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona said recently on CNN.

“I didn’t go to Harvard or Princeton, but I can count – the defunding box canyon is a tactic that will fail and weaken our position,” tweeted Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee. (The “Harvard or Princeton” gibe was aimed at double Ivy Leaguer Senator Cruz.)

A government shutdown, former Florida  Gov. Jeb Bush (R) says, could make things “quite dicey for the Republican Party."

The best thing to do, other well-known Republicans say, is to grudgingly accept Obamacare and move on. Holding that view are New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who says that shutting down the government would violate the public trust.

"The best way to fight it is in the 2014 elections," Governor Walker said Friday in an Associated Press interview.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, hosting a state Republican conference on Mackinac Island where Walker, Governor Jindal, and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky are set to appear, said a shutdown "reflects poorly on the national political culture."

Another Republican governor – Brian Sandoval of Nevada – gave the GOP’s weekly radio address Saturday.

As governors often do, he said it’s “no accident” that Republican governors lead states with thriving economies.

“We reduce government, balance budgets, and keep taxes as low as possible,” he said. “Can you just imagine what our economy would look like today if Washington would just take that approach?"

More pointedly, he addressed the fractious situation back East.

“Like Washington, Nevada has a politically divided government, but that hasn’t stopped our efforts to grow Nevada’s economy,” he said. “Good executives, like all good leaders, must expect opposition when making decisions or when making or enforcing the law. But executives must engage those that disagree with them. They must listen to all ideas, persuade when possible, and respectfully and firmly disagree when necessary.”

Governor Sandoval did not address the controversial Affordable Health Care Act, and a senior official for Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada gleefully pointed out why.

Kristen Orthman, press secretary for Senator Reid, tweeted: “Do Rs realize that they've tapped a GOP Gov who is fully implementing Obamacare to deliver their weekly address??”

As the Hill magazine notes, Sandoval has worked to roll out two of Obamacare’s most important provisions: establishing Nevada’s health insurance exchange and expanding the state’s Medicaid program.

In his own radio address Saturday, Obama took aim at the GOP’s “far right.”

“Democrats and some reasonable Republicans are willing to raise the debt ceiling and pass a sensible budget – one that cuts spending on what we don’t need so we can invest in what we do. And I want to work with those Democrats and Republicans on a better bargain for the middle class,” he said. “But there’s also a faction on the far right of the Republican Party who’ve convinced their leadership to threaten a government shutdown if they can’t shut off the Affordable Care Act. Some are actually willing to plunge America into default if they can’t defund the Affordable Care Act.”

“Think about that. They’d actually plunge this country back into recession – all to deny the basic security of health care to millions of Americans,” Obama said. “Well, that’s not happening. And they know it’s not happening.”

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