Right to left: Republican Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Mike Lee (Utah), and Ted Cruz (Tex.)
Byron York has a good post at the Washington Examiner pouring cold water on the idea that Senate Republicans will shut down the federal government in order to force the defunding of Obamacare implementation.
The idea, from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) is that Republicans should refuse to vote for any continuing resolution—that's the appropriation bill that Congress will have to pass to keep the government open past Sept. 30—if it contains money to implement the health care law.
Lee's strategy won't work because the CR is must-pass legislation. If Republicans tie an Obamacare-defunding demand to it, no bill will pass, and they'll get blamed for shutting down the government, which will be unpopular.
Eventually, they'll cave, the government will reopen, the health law will still be implemented, and the Republicans will suffer political damage. It's a strategy that's just asking for pain.
Lee and his colleagues understand this. York got a quote from an anonymous Republican Senate aide explaining why various Tea Party senators want to pursue the strategy even though they know it's doomed:
"We have to try," says the Senate aide. "Having this fight will show the people who sent us here that we are a party of principle. And after we lose this fight, all of our guys are going to have an issue that we can run on and win."
The key phrase in this quote is "all of our guys." Which guys is he referring to?
A government shutdown wouldn't endear Senate Republicans to the public as a whole. That's why Republican senators like Tom Coburn (Okla.) and John Cornyn (Tex.) are publicly dissing the Lee strategy.
But it would give Tea Party senators like Rand Paul (Ky.) and Ted Cruz (Tex.) big, public opportunities to "stand up to Obamacare" and improve their standing with the sort of very conservative voters who have a lot of influence in the Iowa caucuses. A government shutdown as a Hail Mary against Obamacare might be the sort of thing Cruz could run on and win Iowa.
It's a good example of the diverging incentives facing individual Republican officials and the party as a whole. Individual senators can benefit by picking fights that make it harder for the party to build a majority electoral coalition. But in this instance, most senators seem to realize that would be a mistake.
It won't be that hard to get a CR through the Senate. The more difficult question will be the House, where individual members are more conservative and represent districts where they can more easily disregard broad public opinion.
But last time House Republicans had the opportunity to force a government shutdown, in March, they got gun-shy, realizing that the shutdown fights of 1995-6 under Speaker Newt Gingrich did not play out well for Republicans.
Boehner may have to break the "Hastert Rule" to pass the CR: That is, he'll let it come to a vote and pass mostly with Democratic support. But far from angering his caucus, he will be giving them exactly what they want. They will be able to avoid a government shutdown fight without ever having to vote to fund Obamacare.
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