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.


About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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