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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

So what’s it going to be for GOP hotheads in Congress this fall?

A soul-satisfying episode of adolescent nihilism culminating in a government shutdown and yet another debt/default scare? Or an abject capitulation to political (and fiscal) reality and an acceptance of the Republican Party’s role as the loyal opposition?

As I write, there’s just no telling. It’s partly a contest between the GOP’s electronic infotainment/Tea Party wing and the party establishment. Talk-radio shouters and cable TV entrepreneurs thrive on melodrama, and a substantial proportion of the Tea Party base follows excitedly along. Defund Obamacare! Shut it down! To those of us of a certain age, this has a ring of nostalgia, like Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 vow to levitate the Pentagon. I don’t know what they’re smoking down at RNC headquarters, but on CNN’s State of the Union, party chairman Reince Priebus made a lame attempt to blame President Obama.

“I think all Republicans are unified on one thing and that is defunding, delaying, getting rid of, eliminating Obamacare,” Priebus said. “So we have total unanimity on that issue and the question is what are the tactics?…So Mr. President, if you want to shut the government down because you want to continue to fund this monstrosity…then go ahead.”

Nice try. No cigar.

Having wasted countless hours on 40 — count ’em, 40 — votes to defund Obamacare, you’d think House Republicans might be getting the message. Their scheme’s DOA in the Senate, and even if it weren’t, the White House holds veto power. The GOP’s last constitutional chance to prevent 30 million Americans from buying affordable health insurance coverage expired with Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy. End of story.

True, rising Republican celebrities like Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Mike Lee (R-UT), and rising star Rep. Tom Cotton (R-AR) are breathing smoke and fire. However, it’s also true that none of these worthies hold leadership positions. Until very recently nobody knew who they were. They risk nothing by enrolling in a purely symbolic resistance.

Quite the opposite: True Believers in utopian right-wing crusades evaluate politicians according to their fervor, not their coherence. Did Ronald Reagan ever pay a political price for describing Medicare as the death knell of freedom? He did not.

Indeed, the best possible outcome for Senatorial rabble-rousers would be what now appears likely: A minority of GOP House moderates voting with Democrats to pass a continuing resolution, avoiding a party-line government shutdown that could doom the Republican Party’s national electoral chances. Speaker Boehner won’t have much choice but to allow it.

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