Republican House members, who are beginning to feel the heat resulting from their efforts to use their government shutdown to de-fund Obamacare, have come up cute tactic for reaching their goal. They have sniffed the political winds and identified those shutdown pain points which have most angered the American public (pay for the military, veteran’s benefits, experimental drug programs for cancer victims, availability of national parks, etc.) and offered to fund some of those programs piecemeal.
In their public statements they seek to appear reasonable and consolatory. To the Democrats in Senate they say, “Let’s pass legislation to fund those programs we can all agree to deserve to be funded and then negotiate the rest.” Sounds very reasonable, right? They are counting on the media and the public to not recognize, or at least not dwell on, their more sinister political motives. The first of these is fairly obvious – they want to decrease the public’s resentment of their tactics by eliminating of those much publicized pain points and thus decrease the intense pressure they are feeling to pass the a “clean” continuing resolution, all the while maintaining their strangle hold on the nation’s economy via the shutdown.
The Senate Democrats have already caved and agreed to fund military salaries during the shutdown (no one on Capital Hill wants to be perceived as being anti-military), but they are unlikely to even consider any other piecemeal funding legislation expected to be passed by the House. Not only does the removal of each of the shutdown pain points decrease the leverage they need to force the House to pass a clean continuing resolution, but the Democrats also see where all is ultimately heading. If the Senate joins with the House and passes one piecemeal funding bill after another, sooner or later the only program left unfunded will be Obamacare, and other programs the Republicans hate and they would have achieved their ultimate objective. Obviously that is not going to happen.
So, while the House Republicans can temporarily make the Senate Democrats look bad when they refuse to fund programs that everyone wants funded, the overall tactic will ultimately fail. Sooner or later the Republicans will run out of games to play and they will have to come to the stark realization that they have backed themselves into a political corner. They will have to decide how they can extricate themselves while saving as much political face as possible.
It is important to note that this has become as much a battle of Republicans verses Republicans as it Democrats verses Republicans. A major rift has developed within the GOP. I think what is likely is that moderate and less strident conservative House Republicans will turn on the 30 to 40 Tea Party House members who precipitated this mess, blame them for the leading the party down the wrong path, and then vote with the House Democrats for a clean continuing resolution. That is if they can ever convince Speaker Boehner risk his job to bring a clean CR up for a vote. Otherwise they may throw the Speaker under the bus for repeatedly giving in to the Tea Party demands. We have already seen several House Republicans, including Peter King of NY, leading the charge against the Tea Party true believers calling them “crazies” and the “suicide caucus”. With the debt ceiling deadline looming, you can be sure these pragmatic Republicans are not going to want their party held responsible for pushing the country over a far higher economic cliff than the shutdown. Every expert agrees that not raising the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. So I expect everything to come to a head in the next two weeks.
While much has been said and written about the lack of negotiations between President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Senate leader Harry Reid, the key negotiations of the shutdown will likely be those still to come between Boehner and the cooler heads in his own party on how the extricate themselves from their current untenable situation without appearing to suffer a major political defeat. Perhaps the Democrats can be persuaded to throw the Republicans a bone and allow them to somehow save face. As for the rest of us we can only hope that those intra-party negotiations are successfully concluded sooner rather than later.