After President Obama spoke on the economy yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a curious press statement. After getting past some of the policy gibberish – Boehner wants to “grow our economy” by cutting “spending” – the Speaker added that the president “should work with us to delay his health care law for everyone.”
That’s not a typo. Boehner wants Obama to cooperate with far-right Republicans to delay Obamacare, on purpose, because it would make far-right Republicans happy. (Left unsaid is the implicit threat: if the president chooses not to “work with” the GOP to delay health care benefits for “everyone,” those same far-right Republicans will shut down the federal government.)
In the bigger picture, Boehner’s appeal borders on pathetic. The Speaker is effectively pleading with the White House to give in, just because, and agree to gut the president’s signature domestic policy accomplishment, while taking health care benefits away from millions of Americans – all to satisfy the hysterical demands of right-wing activists. Jon Chait published a terrific item on Boehner’s general appeal last week, explaining, “There’s really only one answer Obama can give here: Boehner can go f*** himself.”
But there’s another question that’s been nagging at me. I realize Obamacare has driven Republicans mad, but what I don’t understand is their endgame. Do they really want a government shutdown? Would they welcome a potentially catastrophic breach in the debt ceiling? As it turns out, no – they’re working from the assumption that the president will cave.
A weakened President Obama will back down if there is a standoff over funding ObamaCare and preventing a government shutdown, House conservatives say.
They are urging Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to gamble that Obama and Senate Democrats will take the blame if they reject legislation that keeps the government running but stops ObamaCare.
At least 43 conservatives want the GOP leadership to go for broke, asserting that Obama has been damaged by stumbles over Syria and by several delays in implementing the Affordable Care Act.
Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) insisted, “I think the president’s too weak to shut the government down…. I think we will win.” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) added, “Syria has hurt him significantly…. It is a factor in the [continuing resolution] going forward, it is a factor in the debt ceiling.”
This is delusional thinking, even by the standards of House Republicans.
Let’s unwrap this a bit. First, the vast majority of Americans oppose the Republicans’ health care efforts, and polls show it’s the GOP that will get the blame in the event of a shutdown.
Second, Obama hasn’t been damaged by Syria – he got everything he wanted without firing a shot, and the public strongly backs his current approach.
And third, there’s simply no way Democrats would ever agree to sabotage their own health care law, which the party fought tooth and nail to approve, following a generations-long effort.
What’s more – and this is the funny part – Boehner, Cantor, and the Republican leadership is well aware of all three of these truths, but they can’t seem to persuade their own members to listen to reason.
It’s getting increasingly easy to believe that the government will shut down in 13 days, at which point the most extreme elements of the House GOP will no doubt conclude, “Oops. I guess the president wasn’t bluffing after all.”