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Oct 13 2013

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Disintegrating GOP Budget Endgame

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A Disasterous Governing Philosophy

A Disasterous Governing Philosophy

In case you missed it, the twin fights over continued funding for the government and the debt ceiling are effectively over.

All that is left to decide on are the terms of Republican surrender.

The tipping point came Thursday, when John Boehner let it be known that the House was open to briefly extending the debt limit in order to allow more time for negotiation. Having executed a strategy that never had a chance of succeeding, the House is now boxed into a corner of its own making, fruitlessly searching for terms that will unite their fractured caucus to avoid a default, while also being agreeable to Democrats and the President.

Whenever hostage-takers ask for more time, its game set, match. And Obama and the Democrats know it.

Democratic optimism is tangibly rooted in two new polls published as the House was making its initial manuevers. Both spelled epic disaster for the GOP in this budget crisis.

The mythical legions of Americans, whom we were told were going to rise up and support Ted Cruz and his ilk in their kamikaze mission to roll back Obamacare at all costs, has failed to materialize. Instead, a very frustrated electorate has looked at Washington dysfunction and has begun to assign blame decisively. While no one comes away unscathed, it is the GOP that bears an outsized burden for the government’s conduct over the past two weeks.

According to the NBC News/WSJ poll, 53 percent of Americans blame Republicans for the government shutdown. In addition, 60 percent say that what is happening in Washington makes them worry more about the future of the economy. Think about that when you read this: more than 2/3rds of Americans believe that Republicans have put their agenda ahead of their country’s interests. Put those two facts together? The country believes that the GOP is willing to tank the economy to get its partisan policy agenda.

That is unprecedented and catastrophic for Republicans.

In no surprise, GOP approval sits at just 24 percent, slightly ahead of the approval for the Tea Party, which come up at 21 percent. Gallup published its results to a similar questionnaire and came up with strikingly similar results to the NBC poll.

Fortified by the polls, POTUS and the Democrats have boldly upped the ante.

With only four days to go before the US notionally breaches the debt limit, President Obama rejected Speaker Boehner’s limited offer on debt, insisting on a both a longer term debt solution and an end to the government shutdown. That triggered an effective collapse of  unity within the GOP House caucus, as it was unable to find a path that could meet the objectives of Tea Party conservatives as well as the Democrats. Boehner admitted as much on Saturday.

The Speaker’s statement was the proverbial “white flag” that spelled the end of the most ridiculous and destructive political strategy of either party in recent memory.

Now the action turns to the Senate, where confident Democrats are not only insisting on a clean CR and longer-term debt limit, with no changes to Obamacare, but are now trying to undo the Sequester, the only tangible victory that the GOP achieved in the 2011 budget crisis that effectively limited government spending. Mitch McConnell and a band a pragmatic Republicans, terribly weakened by the events of the last two weeks, are trying to find an exit for the GOP, if fo no other reason than to move beyond the wreckage created by the Tea Party and hope to salvage a political narrative for 2014.

Although the GOP is losing – big time – the situation is still fluid enough for it to get much worse.

While the political momentum has shifted decisively to the Democrats and President Obama, Tea Party true believers continue to exist in a parallel universe. When asked about the results of the NBC poll in an interview with NBC News on Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz said the survey was, “not reflective of where the country is.”

Can Cruz point to one survey – any survey that wasn’t conducted by Heritage Action – that supports his position?

The danger for the GOP in the next 96 hours is two-fold. Cruz or one of his cohorts could attempt to filibuster any compromise legislation that comes out of negotiations between Reid and McConnell. That would delay, but not ultimately defeat a stop-gap legislative proposal, but it could stretch the process out long enough so that the Thursday deadline passes, and the next stage of anarchy begins.

Once legislation does get out of the Senate, it will be up to the House to pass a bill. The pressure on Boehner will be extraordinary as he and his leadership team will have to cope with the irreconcilable differences between Tea Party conservatives and their “take no quarter” mantra, and the need to do something to prevent imminent economic chaos  as markets react to a possible US debt ceiling breach.

Boehner’s only play is to bring the Senate bill to the House floor, no matter how objectionable, and pass it with Democratic votes and perhaps two dozen Republicans who are not aligned with the Tea Party. While that would end the crisis, it would be nothing short of an epic humiliation for Boehner and the Tea Party – taking the country to the bring of default for…..

Nothing.

The internal political repercussions for the GOP will be severe and longer-lasting.  There is no assurance that Boehner will keep his speakership as a furious Tea Party caucus seeks to exact revenge. But Tea Party conservatives could find themselves “primaried” from the center if the major lesson from the debacle is that hostage taking and political purity are no way to govern.

Both the internal GOP divisions and the fall out from the brinksmanship will hurt GOP prospects in 2014. It is too soon to say whether it will be decisive, but there is little doubt that in just two weeks, Republicans have largely destroyed the built-in advantages that had them holding the House and perhaps gaining a Senate majority in next year’s midterms.

And in attempting the politically impossible – defunding Obamacare by whatever means necessary – Tea Party conservatives have stepped on their own message, making the shut down and debt ceiling the central narrative of early October, instead of the abominable rollout of Obamacare and its manifold problems.  Indeed, one of the results of the NBC poll was a small uptick in public approval for Obamacare.

Tea Party Republicans have not only failed spectacularly, they’ve ironically damaged the very cause that they risked everything on, as well as badly damaging the party that is, for lack of an alternative, the only vehicle to oppose Obamacare and the Obama regulatory state.

Beware. The “credibility” campaign is coming.

Democrats won’t need to defend Obamacare in 2014.  They just need to point out that by their willingness to take the US to the brink, Republicans cannot be trusted with a congressional majority. Just keep running ads with GOP members saying no, inviting a shutdown or debt ceiling breach. Imagine then run ads on what the GOP would do if both houses of Congress were controlled by Tea Party radicals. The campaign is simple and devastating.

What is the GOP answer?  We promise not to do it again?

Hardly inspired or reassuring.

Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.

On August 5th, I wrote this about GOP threats of a shutdown, “The harsh truth is that there is only one way this ends; with a humiliating defeat for the GOP. How big a defeat depends on how long it takes for Republicans to find an agreement that can command a majority in the House. The longer it takes, the worse it is.”

Obvious, prophetic and so utterly avoidable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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