Sunday TV news shows are a playground for pundits and politicians, equally driven like high school debaters to exhibit forceful rhetorical skills and advance their cause. One part partisan positioning, two parts ego.
The exchange between David Gregory of NBC’s “Meet the Press” and Sen. Ted Cruz this week was classic. Twenty or so uninterrupted minutes of sharp-edged back-and-forth between the veteran journalist and the freshman Texas lawmaker who has rankled many fellow Republicans as well as Democrats with his aggressive opposition to the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
Both were prepared and did well, but Senator Cruz probably won on points. (As an undergraduate at Princeton University, he won the top speaker award at both the 1992 US National Debating Championship and the 1992 North American Debating Championship. At Harvard Law School, he was a semi-finalist at the 1995 World Universities Debating Championship.)
With barely more than 24 hours before a possible shutdown of government funding that’s focused on the future (if any) of Obamacare, that was the subject across the broadcast spectrum Sunday.
As Associated Press political writer Alan Fram pointed out, “Lawmakers spoke past one another on the Sunday talk shows, often rehashing the turbulent fights about the health overhaul that the Supreme Court has upheld, as the nation edged toward the first government shutdown in 17 years.”
Most of those lawmakers talking Sunday emphasized who’s to blame.
“We would love for [President Obama] to sit down and say, ‘OK, there are some problems with Obamacare,’” Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R) of Tennessee said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We’ve been met with this attitude of no negotiation. Don’t want to sit down. Don’t want to talk about this. It’s my way or the highway.”
“If we have a shutdown, it will be because [Senate majority leader] Harry Reid holds that absolutist position and essentially holds the American people hostage,” Cruz said on “Meet the Press.” “He says, ‘I’m not willing to compromise, I’m not willing to even talk.’ His position is 100 percent of Obamacare must be funded in all instances. Other than that, he’s going to shut the government down.”
Rep. Raul Labrador (R) of Idaho sees a purely political reason for this.
“Let’s be really honest about this. The other side would like to see Republicans in trouble in 2014,” Representatiove Labrador said on “Meet the Press.”
“I think everybody agrees that this is a loser for [the GOP] if the government shuts down,” he said. “That’s why I think the president and the Democrats want to shut down the government.”
Democrats have a different view, of course.
"Drive the country to the cliff and then say give us what we want," is how Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D) of Maryland characterized the Republican position on "Face the Nation.”
“These people have come unhinged,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D) of Florida, who chairs the Democratic National Committee, said on CNN's "State of the Union."
She was speaking of the GOP effort to link government funding to delaying and changing the Affordable Care Act. House Republican leaders had also linked removing the threat of a government shutdown to easing business regulations, tax reforms, and approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
"That's totally and wholly irresponsible," Representative Wasserman Schultz said.
Senate majority whip Dick Durbin (D) of Illinois said he might consider one of the Republican demands – repealing the tax on medical devices – "but not with a gun to my head. Not with the prospect of shutting down the government."
“As I have said repeatedly, the Senate will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill,” Senator Reid (D) of Nevada said in a statement Sunday. “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one.”
Does “square one” mean there’s no wiggle room for avoiding a shutdown of many government agencies and services, including the furlough of hundreds of thousands of civilian workers?
House majority whip Kevin McCarthy (R) of California hints that might – just might – be possible.
“I think the House will get back together, in enough time, send another provision not to shut the government down but to fund it, and it will have a few other options in there for the Senate to look at,” Representative McCarthy said on “Fox News Sunday.”
“There are a lot of items that are on the table,” he said without elaborating.
The drama is scheduled to continue Monday when the Senate reconvenes.