Psst. The GOP doesn’t really want to defund Obamacare

Updated
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republican leaders speak with reporters following a strategy session at the Capitol, Wednesday, Sept. 18...
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Republican leaders speak with reporters following a strategy session at the Capitol, Wednesday, Sept. 18...
J. Scott Applewhite/AP

House conservatives have forced Speaker John Boehner to include a provision to defund Obamacare in a continuing resolution whose passage will be necessary to keep the government running past Sept. 30. But Boehner didn’t want to do that, because he knew such a measure couldn’t pass the Senate, and even if it could, President Obama would veto it. Should the result be a government shutdown, polls and past history indicate the GOP would get the blame. Obama knows that, and therefore he’s willing to go through with the shutdown.

The GOP isn’t. Eventually Boehner will bring up a continuing resolution that doesn’t defund Obamacare. It will pass the House, probably not with support from a GOP majority but with some combination of Republican and Democratic support. (For a detailed explanation of how this will work, see Jake Sherman and John Bresnahan’s excellent rundown in Politico.) Boehner would have preferred to avoid this scenario, because it violates the “Hastert Rule,” which says that a speaker must not push through legislation not supported by a majority of his own party. To violate the Hastert Rule is to put one’s speakership in peril. (Though the Atlantic’s Molly Ball has pointed out that the Democratic former House Speaker Tip O’Neill routinely violated the Hastert Rule without risk to his leadership position.) But Boehner would much rather break the Hastert Rule (which he’s already had to break several times before) than shut down the government.

But why not shut down the government? If Obamacare were as much of a threat to the Republic as the right would have us believe, wouldn’t the GOP readily give its lives, its fortunes, and its sacred honor to defeat it? Wouldn’t Republicans at the very least risk lousy poll ratings?

Consider, for example, this video, posted online this past summer by Crossroads GPS, the super PAC created by Karl Rove. Taking its cue from Sharknado, the video portrays Obamacare as the equivalent of a natural disaster. “Nobody’s safe from [Obamacare’s] wrath,” the announcer intones. Also, Obamacare is “leading a path of destruction through our economy.” Surely Rove would say that a threat like that is well worth sacrificing a House majority for, yes?

Except he isn’t. In a Sept. 19 Wall Street Journal op-ed, Rove plays statesman and urges House Republicans to abandon their defunding strategy. If they pursue it, and the result is a government shutdown, it will have “much worse fallout than the one in 1995” because at least in 1995 most of the government’s appropriation bills had already been signed into law. Rove cites Crossroads GPS polls showing a shutdown would undermine GOP support among independents. And electing Republicans to Congress is much more important than blocking implementation of Obamacare.

Indeed, Rove has as much as said that electing Republicans to Congress depends on maintaining Obamacare. Those same Crossroads GPS polls show that in swing states and swing House districts, 60% of independents oppose Obamacare. “If this holds through 2014,” Rove writes, “then Republicans should receive another big boost in the midterms.” That Obamacare is a gift for Republicans is a longstanding theme for Rove. “The longer this issue is around,” he wrote in Jan. 2011, “the worse it’s likely to be for Democrats.” Why wreck that by making it go away—especially if the price were giving the House back to the Democrats?

If the GOP doesn’t want to get rid of Obamacare now, it certainly won’t want to get rid of it once Obamacare’s poll standings improve as citizens who avail themselves of its benefits start to like it. When that happens, Republicans will have to find themselves another issue to demagogue. The right is trying as hard as it can to forestall that day by sabotaging the law’s implementation. A poorly-implemented Obamacare is much better for the GOP than a well-implemented one. Worst of all, though, would be no Obamacare at all.

Psst. The GOP doesn’t really want to defund Obamacare

Updated