Why the Republicans lost

Updated
US Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) walks out of a meeting with House Republicans, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA, 28 September 2013.
US Speaker of the House John Boehner (C) walks out of a meeting with House Republicans, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA, 28 September 2013.
Michael Reynolds/EPA

You can blame both political parties for many of Washington’s controversial policies, from the war on drugs to the explosion of corporate lobbying.  The new government shutdown, however, is not that kind of story.

It is an avoidable crisis caused solely by Republicans in the U.S. House.  Here’s why.

A majority of Congress actually opposes the shutdown

The federal government shut down for one reason: House Republicans did not pass a six-week funding bill.

That doesn’t mean a majority of the House opposed the bill, however.  In fact, the House never got to vote on it.

Speaker John Boehner refused to hold a vote on funding alone–a “clean” bill–instead only allowing votes on funding plans that undermined Obamacare. The Senate rejected those bills, and Boehner never brought a clean bill to the floor before the deadline for funding the government.

If Boehner had simply held a vote on funding alone, 200 House Democrats would back him and he’d only need 17 Republicans to prevail.  The votes are there, according to several Republican members who spoke out this weekend.

By standing in the way of majority rule, Boehner took an entirely avoidable shutdown and made it inevitable.

The funding bill includes spending cuts demanded by Republicans

Another key fact: the last major government shutdown, in 1995, was largely driven by a dispute over federal spending.  That’s not the case today.

The six-week funding proposal already included the bulk of spending cuts demanded by Republicans in the sequester.  The “clean” funding bill does not use the president’s budget numbers, or budget figures from before the automatic sequester began.  It continues the sequester cuts for domestic spending, with some smaller cuts carved out for defense.

That means the package is “far closer to the overall spending levels that the Republicans want than what the Democrats have proposed,” as MSNBC’s Suzy Khimm reported–a GOP victory.  In fact, It’s $70 billion less than the Democrats’ request, a fact which has disappointed many liberals.

Yet when Republicans won their demands to cut spending, that only spurred Tea Party members in the House to issue new demands.

ObamaCare

That brings us to Obamacare. The shutdown is the House Republicans’ fault because they refused to fund the government unless the president signed a law rolling back his signature domestic policy, the Affordable Care Act.

This kind of legislative blackmail is not only historically unusual; it is strategically absurd.

No serious observer expected the Democratic Senate to support, or President Obama to sign, a bill reversing Obamacare.   Just ask Speaker Boehner.

As recently as March, he categorically ruled out that approach, since it was so obviously futile.

“I believe that trying to put ‘Obamacare’ on this vehicle risks shutting down the government,” Boehner told reporters asking about the plan, “that’s not what our goal is.”

While Republicans famously held a series of symbolic, stand-alone votes against Obamacare, Boehner said even that messaging exercise should end after the 2012 election. “It’s pretty clear that the president was reelected,” he said a few days after election day, “Obamacare is the law of the land.”

That is the backdrop for the one-sided shutdown Americans faced on Tuesday. We are experiencing a costly exercise not only opposed by most of the public, and most of Congress, but opposed by the very Republican who arranged it.

It’s a dynamic so strange, and so one-sided, that many observers may prefer to fall back on more typical stories about both parties “bickering” and how “Washington is broken.”  That is partly true–right now, the U.S. House may be broken as a functioning democratic body.  But that’s because John Boehner and the Tea Party broke it.

Why the Republicans lost

Updated