The government shutdown is now a work week old. Both sides seem dug in; there’s no deal on the horizon that would allow a funding bill to advance. We don’t know how this will end, but we do know this: at some point, end it will.
Taking into account some things we’ve learned in the last few days, here are some thoughts on what the post-shutdown American political situation will look like.
OBAMACARE SURVIVES. This is a foregone conclusion that’s worth repeating. Nothing President Obama has said in recent days has hinted at any retreat from the position that he would never sign legislation defunding his signature domestic policy achievement.
Yet House Republicans have already scaled back their Obamacare position. First they demanded defunding the Affordable Care Act as the cost of advancing a continuing resolution to fund the government. Then they moved to a one-year delay in implementation.
Given that on this issue Obama is obdurate and the House leadership is not, it’s not hard to see that defunding per se is off the table.
TEA PARTY CONSERVATIVES CONSIDER THAT A DEFEAT. Despite the fact that it looked pretty much impossible to derail Obamacare from the beginning, the hard core on the right who pushed House Speaker John Boehner to link the health law and continued government funding in the first place may well consider its continued existence a stinging loss.
They won’t be consoled by what they consider just tweaks to the law, such as a repeal of its tax on medical devices, or passage of the so-called “Vitter amendment,” which would bar Congress from contributing to the purchase of health insurance on Obamacare exchanges by lawmakers and staff.
“This fight needs to be about defunding Obamacare. We need to keep fighting on that ground,” tweeted conservative pundit Erick Erickson on Friday.
OBAMACARE FACES CONTINUED ATTACKS. What follows from the above points is that the Affordable Care Act, one of the biggest changes in the American social contract in a generation, will begin its implementation period while a significant percentage of Congress continues to attempt to undo it or scale the program back. Remember, the GOP establishment says it differs from the tea party on this issue only on tactics, not the end goal. Senate Republicans want to defund Obamacare too; they just don’t want to shut down the government or not raise the US debt ceiling as part of that effort.
SO DOES JOHN BOEHNER. If the tea party thinks they’ve lost, they’ll look for someone to blame, and Boehner will be at the top of the list. He may have won some personal loyalty from conservative House members who have seen that he’s willing to shut down the government on behalf of the defund-Obamacare effort. But outside activists and some conservative Senate Republicans (we won’t name names, but their initials are “Ted Cruz”) might still greatly complicate Boehner’s life by charging that he’s betrayed the movement.
He’s also under pressure from Democrats and moderates in his party to allow a vote on a clean continuing resolution and/or debt ceiling increase, both of which would almost surely pass. Why does he want that job, anyway? Of all the political leaders involved in this crisis, his position is the most precarious, and it will remain so.
And here's a bonus observation:
NONE OF THIS IS UNDEMOCRATIC. As Ezra Klein of Wonkblog notes, the White House sees the current crisis as about Republicans “trying to create a new, deeply undemocratic pathway through which a minority party that lost the last election can enact an agenda that would never pass the normal legislative process.”
Well, sorry White House, but it isn’t. Undemocratic, that is. As we wrote yesterday, a House-Senate-White House standoff such as we’re currently seeing is just the result of the Constitution at work. It’s our old friend from Politics 101 at work: checks and balances. Sometimes the “checks” piece predominates.
And what’s “normal legislative process?” Tying the defunding of Obamacare to a spending bill upon which most of the government is dependent may be novel and dramatic, even outside accepted practice, but it’s allowed under current legislative rules.
Look, tea party conservatives genuinely believe that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will be ruinous for the country. (Blogger Andrew Sullivan has a great post Friday on this subject.) Given the way they see the stakes, why wouldn’t they use every legislative tool at their disposal?
President Obama and many Democrats, on the other hand, see Obamacare as the fulfillment of a long-delayed march toward social justice. Would they not go as far as John Boehner has if they felt it was necessary for the health law’s survival?
Both Democrats and the tea party are representing the deeply felt convictions of the voters they represent, not just their personal beliefs. Looked at that way, the current Washington situation may seem not an irrational dispute between politicians, but a reflection of a continued political division in the nation as a whole.