Obamacare or the Debt Ceiling
Republicans are winning the shutdown fight, and Democrats know it.
People turning on the news this week came away with the knowledge that it was about Obamacare and kept hearing that Democrats wouldn’t negotiate. They also learned that for some reason the President didn’t want Word War II veterans to tour their own memorial, and Harry Reid won’t turn the funding on for cancer clinical trials at the NIH. Oh, and the rollout for Obamacare is one big glitch.
Late yesterday came word that the Amber Alert system has been shut down, but Barack Obama’s federally funded golf course remains open. Catholics are openly fretting that priests on military bases could get arrested for performing mass — at the very least they are prohibited from doing so.
The President had to invite Congressional Leaders to talk, Harry Reid had to sit down with Dana Bash of CNN to explain himself, the shutdown coverage overall started to recede by Friday, and the Democrats began to shift the conversation to the debt limit.
The polls are shifting against the Democrats. They will continue to shift as more and more Americans realize that this fight is fundamentally about the letter they just received informing them of massive premium increases.
But the problem is that the expiration of the debt limit is on October 17th (or thereabouts, as the President manipulates it) and both Democrats and Republican Leadership have an incentive to merge a “grand bargain” to increase the debt limit with a continuing resolution that funds Obamacare. Both sides get to change the conversation–one to protect an unpopular law and the other to minimize political risk by reverting back to the norm–and get past two critical leverage points with a blend of GOP and Democrat votes.
The result will be no substantial changes to Obamacare. It will be funded in its entirety. Sure, they will repeal the medical device tax and maybe add the Vitter language to have the illusion that Congress is going to live under Obamacare. Nothing real though.
Don’t believe me? Listen to the reporting. Its all grand bargain and debt limit. The negotiations do not include Obamacare.
So the question is do we want to stop Obamacare or do we want to stop the debt ceiling increase? My view is that we cannot do both at the same time. We might dare to dream, but the debt ceiling will be increased one way or the other.
Right now the GOP is holding up very well in the press and public opinion because it is clear they want negotiations. The GOP keeps passing legislation to fund departments of government. It has put the Democrats in an awkward position.
But the moment the GOP refuses to raise the debt ceiling, we are going to have problems. Remember, the last time you and I wanted the GOP to fight on the debt ceiling, the attacks from our own side were particularly vicious.
They’ve been vicious over the shutdown too, but now that we are here, the water ain’t so bad and only a few ankle biting yappers continue to take shots at conservatives from the GOP side.
It will not be so with the debt ceiling. And the GOP will no longer seem very reasonable. The debt ceiling fight will become an impediment to undermining Obamacare.
It is what Republican leaders want. They are hoping for us to be recalcitrant and angry over the debt ceiling increase. They want to appear to shove us off by raising it. They know they can’t fight us on Obamacare because the public hates Obamacare. But they know they can on the debt ceiling because of the specter of default.
So what should we do? I think somebody like Steve Scalise, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, needs to propose a short-term debt limit for a few weeks and attach to it the Full Faith and Credit Act that ensures the Treasury Department prioritizes interest payments in the event the debt limit is ever not increased. This would buy us some time to finish the fight to defund Obamacare and set us up well to fight the next long-term debt limit increase to the death by removing some of the President’s scare tactics. How do Republican Leaders not adopt and push such a proposal? How does Obama not accept it without looking completely unreasonable?
Regardless, the only path to victory in this shutdown is to keep our fire on Obamacare and our focus on the defunding effort. We can still undermine Obamacare, but we need to resist the attempt to merge this with the debt limit and hold the line on the continuing resolution. Otherwise we will lose on both.