The New York Times has a great article today that delves into the origins of the House Republicans’ government shutdown. It turns out that powerful right wing groups, including the vast political machinery assembled and funded by the Koch brothers, have been agitating for a shutdown for a long time, and were finally able, with the help of their stalwart friends in Congress (like Ted Cruz) to put House Republicans on the path that got us to where we are today.
As the Times explains it:
To many Americans, the shutdown came out of nowhere. But interviews with a wide array of conservatives show that the confrontation that precipitated the crisis was the outgrowth of a long-running effort to undo the law, the Affordable Care Act, since its passage in 2010 — waged by a galaxy of conservative groups with more money, organized tactics and interconnections than is commonly known.
With polls showing Americans deeply divided over the law, conservatives believe that the public is behind them. Although the law’s opponents say that shutting down the government was not their objective, the activists anticipated that a shutdown could occur — and worked with members of the Tea Party caucus in Congress who were excited about drawing a red line against a law they despise.
Public opinion research actually shows that the Patient Protection Act’s provisions are pretty popular. The law itself doesn’t poll so well, but then, people aren’t familiar with what it actually does because it can’t be explained in a few simple words like Medicare For All, which is the logical next step in healthcare reform.
Right wing groups are afraid that once the law is implemented, it will be too late to stop it. So far, they’ve lost in the courts, the court of public opinion, and at the ballot box, as I wrote last week. That has left them with little choice but to engage in blackmail and extortion. They don’t control the Senate or the White House so they are not in a position to repeal the law. And symbolic repeal votes are not enough for them; they’re just a waste of everyone’s time.
Hence, the right wing came up with this strategy, articulated in a memo signed by Edwin Meese, Chris Chocola, Kenneth Blackwell, and other key operates.
Blueprint to Defunding Obamacare
Obamacare’s funding mechanisms are as complicated as the law itself, but they can be stopped through the appropriation process, which includes the upcoming continuing resolution.
- Federally Backed Exchanges. An appropriations rider must eliminate the refundable tax credits for premiums and the cost sharing subsidies that are essentially used to support insurance purchased in the Obamacare exchanges, which starts January 1, 2014.
- Medicaid Expansion. An appropriations rider must eliminate the enhance match funding for the Medicaid expansion, which takes effect January 1, 2014.
- Permanent Appropriations. Obamacare contains items called “permanent appropriations” which guarantee funding for the Community Health Center Fund (CHCF) and Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF). An appropriations rider turns off funds for these so-called permanent appropriations, which are already in effect.
- Implementation. An appropriations rider must block the implementation of Obamacare, covering salaries, rulemaking, enforcement, etc.
- Life and Religious Liberty. Obamacare is an unprecedented attack on life and religious liberty. An appropriations rider must repeal the HHS mandate that attacks the religious values and principles of countless Americans.
- Miscellaneous Programs. An appropriations rider must block all funding for newly authorized discretionary programs contained in Obamacare and return reauthorized programs back to their pre-Obamacare levels.
At the time the above was written, the right wing was focused on influencing a different continuing resolution. They weren’t able to convince House Republicans to take a suicidal stand then, but they’re enjoying great success now, despite fissures in the House Republican ranks. It has been said and reported that only a few dozen Tea Party-affiliated Republicans are really supportive of keeping the government shut down and then forcing the nation into default if they don’t get their way.
Yet tthey remain in the driver’s seat, thanks in no small part to the outsize role that groups like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and Heritage Action are playing.
Representative Peter King of New York, who is pretty far to the right himself, has perhaps been most vocal in criticizing the Tea Party faction of his caucus for keeping the government shut down. In fact, in an interview with Fox Noise Channel today, King placed the blame for the shutdown on his own party. At the same time, says he won’t cooperate with Democrats to reopen the government.
CHRIS WALLACE: Sir, if you could answer my direct question, why won’t you sign a discharge petition?
PETER KING: It’s not going to go anywhere and the Democrats are not bargaining in good faith. There is no way in the world you will get 25 Republicans to go on that and having said that, I wouldn’t go on it because they are, as I said, not bargaining in good faith here, right now. I’m am committed to make this work. That’s why I have been against this government shutdown from the start. Where I disagree with [fellow Republican] Tom [Graves of Georgia] is we are the ones who did shut the government down. Charles Krauthammer called it the “suicide caucus,” and the Wall Street Journal said we’re “Kamikazes.”
Newsflash to King: There’s no bargain to be made here! All Democrats are doing is refusing to yield to Republican blackmail. There is no negotiating with extortionists. Extortionists demand a ransom and threaten to destroy lives or property if the ransom is not delivered. That is precisely what Republicans are doing.
As unhappy as King may be with the Tea Party faction of his caucus, he seems unwilling to stand up to them. Sure, he’s criticized them publicly and privately, and he attempted to round up a few votes for a clean continuing resolution. But his attempt was feeble and all it showed was that he and his colleagues lack backbone. His “commitment” is a nice sentiment, but it’s meaningless until he backs it up with action. So far he’s been all talk and no show.
It’s been suggested that John Boehner hasn’t broken with the Tea Party faction yet because he fears he won’t be able to find the votes to stave off a default a little later this month if some House Republicans cross over and join Democrats in voting to reopen the government with a clean continuing resolution.
Even if that’s true, Boehner is only delaying the inevitable fallout by keeping the government shut down and reciting Tea Party talking points day after day. A capitulation is a capitulation. If Boehner puts country ahead of party, he’ll be punished by his party for doing so. He could lose his speakership.
On the other hand, if he puts party ahead of country, he remains nominally in power. His choice so far has been to put his party and himself first.
The Tea Party faction may not constitute an outright majority within the Republican caucus. But it’s clear they are in control of it. They have already forced the American people’s government to partially shut down, which is costly and unnecessary. Why should any of us think that they’d be unwilling to depose Boehner as speaker?
It would be one thing if their zealotry caused the oblivion of the Republican Party. But because the Republican Party controls the House of Representatives, their grip on the Republican Party has huge implications for the entire country. To say they are playing with fire would be a huge understatement.
Paul Krugman writes:
Everybody not inside the bubble realizes that Mr. Obama can’t and won’t negotiate under the threat that the House will blow up the economy if he doesn’t — any concession at all would legitimize extortion as a routine part of politics. Yet Republican leaders are just beginning to get a clue, and so far clearly have no idea how to back down. Meanwhile, the government is shut, and a debt crisis looms. Incompetence can be a terrible thing.
John Boehner may be incompetent, but the people who work for the Koch brothers aren’t. They have seized control of the Republican Party — once the party of Abraham Lincoln — and they are now using it to do their bidding. The party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and even Reagan — yes, even Reagan! — is no more.
Consider what Reagan’s former budget director David Stockman had to say last spring when he was asked by the right wing website NewsMax if there was anyone within the Republican Party who could unite it and lead it to victory.
He answered: “No. I don’t, because I think the Republican Party is not really a party. It doesn’t stand for anything except reelecting itself. It’s a coalition of gangs.”
He then proceeded to describe some of the party’s “gangs”: neocons, social cons (or theocons) and tax cons (a cross section of corporate cons and paleocons, perhaps). In Stockman’s view, none of these “gangs” stand for conservative economics, which he defines as “fiscal rectitude, free markets, sound money.”
As a consequence, he says, “The Republican Party is basically irrelevant to the economic crisis that faces the country.”
If only it were.
The Republican Party would certainly be irrelevant if it wasn’t in power. Unfortunately, we have divided government at the federal level, and on the Republican side of the divide, the extremists are in the driver’s seat, aided by zealous right wing groups that believe in the Grover Norquist mantra of getting government to the size where it can be drowned in a bathtub.
So long as they’re calling the shots, our country is in grievous peril.