Another Perspective

Tell Me How This Ends

What is the end game for House Republicans?

By 9.30.13

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As a mossback and fiscal conservative, I certainly believe in cutting the federal budget, reforming entitlements, and, yes, deep-sixing Obamacare at the earliest opportunity. But as I watch the unfolding drama (or is it melodrama?) on Capitol Hill, I find myself repeating the famous line uttered by General David Petraeus during the Iraq War: “Tell me how this ends.”

Political and military stratagems require consideration of the end game before, rather than after, you pick a fight. Despite past history and current polling, many conservative members in Congress think they can win a showdown on defunding or delaying Obamacare through the federal budget process, rather than by winning elections, and still come out smelling like roses.

Sometime late Saturday night the Republicans in the House, with the coerced support of Speaker John Boehner, nearly guaranteed the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years by voting, 231-172, to approve a funding bill that includes a one-year delay of Obamacare’s mandates, taxes, and benefits. “We are united in the House as Republicans,” declared Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R.-VA).

Of course the Democrats in the Senate, in the majority and backed up by a certain presidential veto, hold the commanding heights. They are never going to pass such a bill. After all, Obamacare is the “signature” achievement of President Obama and represents the Holy Grail of progressive politics since the New Deal. White House press secretary Jay Carney spoke for the Senate and the President calling the Republican strategy “reckless and irresponsible.”

“Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” said Carney in a written statement that captures, succinctly, the whip with which the Democrats and the mainstream media will scourge the Republicans mercilessly.

Current federal budget authority expires on Monday at midnight.

How will this end? Badly, I am afraid. Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, who is usually in close touch with his House colleagues, says, “It is going to be tough for them. I don’t have a clear vision how we move through this.”

And Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA), one of the more conservative House members and candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014, admits to having no idea as to what happens when the Democratic Senate rejects the House bill. “We really didn’t talk about exactly what the plan would be then.” Incredible.

We have seen this movie before, and it does not end well for the GOP. The American people are trending toward fiscal conservatism and disenchantment with President Obama. A recent Bloomberg National Poll (September 20-23) indicated that Americans by a 2-1 ratio disagree with the President’s contention that Congress should raise the U.S. debt limit without conditions. Sixty-one percent say that it is “right to require spending cuts when the debt ceiling is raised even if it risks default,” because Congress lacks discipline. But threatening to shut down the government, much less following through on the threat, has never been popular and will harm the Republican brand terribly. The whiff of a banana republic now envelops the House Republican caucus.

House Republicans have raised expectations of at least part of the GOP base as to the prospects of derailing Obamacare through budget machinations. It will be a very sorry sight to watch them cave to the Senate and Administration. The press and the public will be of one mind in opposition to a shutdown and will heap opprobrium upon them until they break.

While many House Republicans hold very safe seats, the real fear is that their negativity impacts the GOP’s Senate candidates in the 2014 elections. Having missed the opportunity to take back control of the upper body in two previous elections, due in part to feckless candidates and political ham-handedness, it would be tragic if they blew a third chance to capture control of the Senate and set the stage for true governance and budgetary and legislative reform.

The House Republicans need to forget short-term maneuvering and think about the long game. 

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.