In mounting their case against Senators Ted Cruz, House conservatives, and the grass-roots campaign to defund Obamacare, the Republican establishment and its like-minded scribes pound an oft-repeated talking point into conventional wisdom: Cruz cannot win.
In this telling, the senator has recklessly embarked on a populist campaign that taps into public anger over Obamacare but has no winning endgame. The Beltway clerisy elaborates that Cruz and his defunding partner, Senator Mike Lee, have failed to account for the Democratic majority and procedural rules that control the Senate. These purportedly immovable obstacles guarantee that the defunding measure they spurred the House to pass cannot be enacted into law. Therefore, conventional wisdom now holds, the only outcomes Cruz & Co. can hope for are (a) an ignominious, demoralizing defeat that will strengthen President Obama’s hand or (b) a stalemate between the House, on the one hand, and the Senate and Obama, on the other — a stalemate that will result in a government shutdown that, in turn, will grievously harm Republican electoral prospects.
There is a good deal wrong with this analysis. I’ve already described some of it in a recent post, and there will be more to say on it. But I want to explore a different topic that the establishment potshots at Cruz, Lee and House conservatives have obscured:
What is the GOP establishment’s strategy for undoing Obamacare?
No conservative supporter of defunding suggests that the defunding strategy is a sure thing. It involves orchestrating a high-stakes confrontation that spotlights Obamacare’s calamitous consequences and corrupt insider deals. The resulting political pressure — coupled with the fact that even Obamacare supporters concede the program is not ready for implementation — must be intense enough to convince congressional Democrats and the president that fighting to fund the program at this time is not in their interests.
No doubt, this is an uphill fight. Yet, conservative defunding proponents are not mounting it idly. They have an urgent reason for acting now, despite the challenges. Obamacare subsidies start to pour out next week. Once government “entitlements” begin, the likelihood of their ever being withdrawn is nil. Thus, if Obamacare is not stopped right now, it will not be stopped — we will be burdened for years, probably permanently, with its catastrophic effects on both our already reeling economy and the quality of American health care.
If conservatives are right about this, we are in desperate times and defunding, even if it prompts a risky government shutdown, is the only desperate measure available — the only chance of success, however uncertain the chance may be.
The Republican establishment disagrees, insisting that the defunding plan pushed by Cruz, Lee and House conservatives is implausible. Fine … but then, what is the establishment’s plausible plan?
Here’s what they say: Elections.
You think Cruz is implausible? Here’s what passes for plausible in Beltway GOP thinking:
The defunding strategy depends on a government shutdown, or at least the threat of one. A government shutdown is certain to be extremely damaging to Republicans. Public anger over it will result in poor GOP performances in the 2014 midterms, and probably beyond — including the all-important 2016 presidential election. But if we refrain from the unrealistic defunding quest and avoid a shutdown, electoral success is assured. After all, in the next two or three cycles, Republican campaigns will be fueled by the implementation of Obamacare, which will be increasingly unpopular. Once Republicans build commanding congressional majorities and win the presidency, they will repeal Obamacare.
Note that, in outlining the GOP establishment game-plan, I am not arbitrating the competing claims about whether prior government shutdowns, especially in the mid-nineties, have badly hurt Republicans. For argument’s sake, I am fully accepting the GOP establishment’s argument that a shutdown would be disastrous for Republicans. I am also indulging the establishment assumption that — although it ran utterly ineffective campaigns in 2006, 2008 and 2012, and although it has embittered the Tea Party that singularly drove its successful 2010 campaign — Republicans are now an electoral juggernaut: they’ll hold the House and win the Senate in 2014, win the White House in 2016, and even solidify those gains in 2018.
Unlikely as it may be, let’s give them every bounce of the ball and assume all these things will happen. We’re not done yet. Beyond buying all of the above, here is what you have to believe to accept the GOP establishment position: In 2016 or 2018 — by which time Obamacare subsidies will have been doled out for three to five years (i.e., they will now be deemed entitlements); and businesses and insurance companies (the ones that have not been killed off) will already have made their long-term arrangements around Obamacare; and a huge government bureaucracy employing thousands of federal workers will have grown up around Obamacare; and a massive statutory and regulatory monster whose tentacles stretch deep into other sectors of the economy will have cemented Obamacare — intrepid Republicans are going to pull the plug on the whole thing.
Mind you, we are talking about a Republican establishment that enacted a new prescription drug entitlement in 2003 that, by some calculations, has burdened the nation with over $16 trillion in unfunded liabilities. We are talking about a Republican establishment that has historically collaborated with Democrats in the explosive growth of entitlements — that, in fact, ran in 2012 as the champion of Medicare. We are talking about a Republican establishment that has always qualified that it wants not to “repeal” but “repeal and replace” Obamacare. It does that because it wants to maintain popular elements (e.g., mandatory coverage despite pre-existing conditions) regardless of the fact that these elements entail government regulations that distort the market — even though it is precisely such distortions that, they otherwise claim, make Obamacare unacceptable.
That is to say, we are talking about a Republican establishment that is progressive in orientation, albeit not as radically so as the Democrats. Unlike conservatives, the GOP establishment accepts the progressive premise that health care (including health insurance) is not a commodity in a free market. It is, instead, corporate property the consumption of which must be regulated by government — including redistributions of wealth to require productive members of society to subsidize “the uninsured,” an amorphous category that outstrips, by leaps and bounds, the fringe of society that cannot fend for itself. Further distancing themselves from conservatives, the Republican establishment accepts the Left’s premise that health care regulation is a central government responsibility — adopting an extravagant reading of the Constitution’s General Welfare Clause that not only permits a federal role but vanquishes the role of the states.
Those Republicans — the guys who enthusiastically expand government; sneer at conservative demands to cut spending and pare the bureaucracy; insist that enticing “moderates” is the way to win elections; and quake at media suggestions that they are the Party of the Rich, out of touch with the struggles of ordinary people — will boldly dismantle Obamacare after it has been up and running for several years. Oh, and the Democrats — the guys who rammed intensely unpopular Obamacare through in a down-and-dirty, party-line slugfest, and who are so notoriously moderate, reasonable and bipartisan — will just meekly roll over and let it happen.
That’s the plan.
And they say Ted Cruz is dreaming!