All signs continue to point to a House GOP crackup that will either lead to a government shutdown or — even worse — a default on America’s debt.
Republican leaders had hoped that the situation in Syria would give them cover, allowing them to somehow keep the government functioning while ignoring many of the big legislative issues the House still has to tackle this year. That doesn’t look as if it will happen.
Instead, the clouds are clearing and what’s left is a Republican caucus that’s divided between justifiably declaring victory over the sequester and the incredibly shrinking deficit — it’s down over one-third in just a year — and Tea Partiers who really want to force a crisis over delaying or defunding Obamacare, a position that’s popular among far-right congressmembers, along with Ted Cruz’s fan club and family — and pretty much no one else.
But the budget battles aren’t the only looming crises for the GOP. Immigration reform and the implementation of Obamacare present historic choices for both parties that will have implications for presidential elections as far as the eye can see.
And all of this is happening as Speaker John Boehner has become the “Speaker In Name Only,” whose plots and schemes are continually rejected by his own members.
Even if we weren’t on the verge of a war, the rest of 2013 will be a perilous time for America. Republicans have to decide if they are a party so obsessed with what they oppose that they’ll damage America and wound their ability to accomplish their agenda in the future.
Here are five ways the GOP could be about to hurt themselves in ways they won’t be able to easily fix.
Photo: House GOP Leader via Flickr.com
Shutting Down The Government
Funding the government is the most basic task Congress is assigned. But when there’s a Democratic president and Republican House, it becomes nearly impossible — especially in non-election years.
Even though the GOP has a safe majority in the House, they haven’t been able to pass most of their appropriations and haven’t been able to come up with a plan to fund the government. Things are so dire in the lower chamber of Congress that Republicans are even considering working more than the nine days they’d planned for September.
Republicans know that shutting off the government and all that goes with it, including not paying soldiers who are actually at war — while still paying congresspeople — is a terrible move. So they’re trying to convince themselves to focus on the debt limit fight, which has even greater consequences.
The “Defund Obamacare” holy warriors do not want to fund the government past September 30 because of what happens on October 1. That’s the day the Obamacare health care exchanges open and more than 30 million Americans find out that they’re eligible for tax credits to help purchase private health care or get completely subsidized government health care.
Shutting down the government hurt the GOP brand in the 1990s and forced George W. Bush to move the GOP agenda away from smaller government. It would hurt the GOP today, but it would actually be one of the least harmful things they could do this year.
Photo: U.S. Army via Flickr.com
Defaulting On Our Debt
Many Republicans think a fight over raising the debt limit is where they can win a delay of Obamacare, or at least that’s what they’re telling Tea Partiers to get them to keep the government open.
The debt limit is a confusing concept because it’s stupid. Congress has already approved all of the spending the U.S. government can do. When the government is in deficit spending, Congress then needs to also approve raising the debt limit. President Bill Clinton has said that he believes the 14th Amendment gives the president power to raise the limit without Congress. But no president has ever tested that, probably because no Congress had ever seriously threatened default until Republicans took over the House in 2011.
Not raising the debt limit actually polls quite well, as American have been trained to think of debt as a form of theft from them, not the ballast to the economy it actually is. There’s no way to deny that defaulting on our debt would unleash one disaster after another.
President Obama has said he will not negotiate on the debt limit. Republicans don’t believe him.
Speaker Boehner has the votes to raise the limit any time he wants. But to do that he’d likely have to risk his job. The last debt limit crisis took thousands of points off the Dow and slowed a painfully slow recovery without costing President Obama re-election.
An actual default would remind America that the party of Hoover and Bush can’t seem to stop creating financial crises.
Reaffirming Themselves As the Party Of The Rich
Republicans have won the deficit argument. Democrats have agreed to cut the deficit even though millions are out of work. And the deficit is falling faster than it has been since the South was segregated and people pretended that homosexuality was a myth.
Democrats would be happy to cut the deficit even more than Republicans are proposing — if the GOP would just agree to get rid of tax breaks for the rich and/or corporations.
The vast majority of Republicans have signed an oath in blood never even to consider asking the rich to pay more for anything ever, even though they’ve taken in approximately 95 percent of the benefits of the recovery.
So instead they’re demanding cuts to food stamps, Head Start, public housing, research and health care while the Mitt Romneys of the world still pay a lower tax rate than many nurses.
The GOP’s basic populist argument — the non-white poors are stealing your right to a Mercedes Benz — has been erased over the past few presidential elections by literally running millionaires for president who symbolize the massive redistribution of wealth to the rich and vast expanse of income inequality that conservative politics makes possible.
If they shut down the government because they won’t ask the richest to sacrifice or because they don’t want 30 million working Americans to be able to get health insurance, making an argument that they’re bleeding this country dry for the rich will be very easy.
Photo: Adam Glanzman via Flickr.com
Denying Health Care To Millions
Let’s say Ted Cruz wins and Obamacare goes away.
Health insurance premiums will rise, probably faster than they were before the Affordable Care Act became law. Pre-existing conditions will still exist for adults. Millions of children with pre-existing conditions who have been protected by the new law could be thrown off their insurance. Insurers can go back to canceling policies when people get sick. Americans will still be paying for the uninsured but just in the dumbest possible way — emergency rooms.
If this happened, Republicans would be in the same position Democrats are in now: forced to answer for every problem with the health care system.
Even though Republicans won’t be able to stop Obamacare from being fully implemented, they’re likely going to pay a price anyway.
Republican governors are embracing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion for a simple reason: They fear not doing so could cost them their jobs.
There’s some evidence that accepting it has already helped Republicans governing in swing states. Eventually every Republican governor who has rejected subsidized health care that the state is going to have to pay for anyway is going to defend this decision.
Red states that reject Medicaid expansion will likely be raising their own states’ premiums, providing proof that expansion works, and increasing the deficit reduction of the law, making it less likely it will ever go away.
Could being the party that based its identity on opposing Obamacare turn red states purple? We will find out.
Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr.com
Punting On Immigration Reform
The Republican National Committee gave Republicans exactly one policy recommendation in the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss: pass immigration reform.
The reason is simple: Latinos are America’s fastest growing group of new voters—and Romney did worse with them than John McCain, who did worse than George W. Bush.
Immigration reform isn’t the only issue these voters care about. They also love Obamacare.
Approving immigration reform won’t turn the 27 percent of the Latino vote into 51 percent for Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio in 2016. But it will keep it from going down toward the 10 percent of the African-American vote Republicans tend to get.
In a way, we’ve never been closer to reform. A bill has passed the Senate that could pass the House today, if Boehner would let Republicans vote on it. But he can’t because he’d likely lose his job.
Republicans console themselves by pointing out that in the two countries where conservatives have seen a resurgence — Australia and Norway — the right embraces an anti-immigration platform. Those countries aren’t America. Every day at least 1,643 Latino voters are turning 18. And the day Texas — which has the second largest Latino population in the nation — turns blue, Republicans will cease to be a national party.
In the next few weeks, Republicans will decide how quickly they want that to happen.
AFP Photo/Jim Watson