It is a strange political moment indeed. Democrats are cheering on a debate between Republicans over the best way to sink President Obama’s health law.
Obama’s former top spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said from his new post at NBC that the tactical debate over how to squash the law had rescued the president from the “quicksand” of his sinking second term; that the president has been saved because some Republicans are willing to risk a government shutdown to block ObamaCare. Maybe. Maybe not. But how’s this for slim solace: Thank goodness our rivals aren’t more effective in exploiting popular disdain for the major accomplishment of the administration. Yay!
The predicate concept here is that if only Republicans were united in their approach to resisting the law, Obama would still be sunk. And perhaps Obama will be spared some of the backlash over his law if Republicans can’t settle on the best way to prosecute their war on ObamaCare. But this shutdown stuff is evidence of just how bad the law has been and will continue to be for the president and his party.
So it’s no wonder that the ones in Washington rooting hardest for a government shutdown these days are Obama Democrats who hope that an impasse will keep the attention on what Republicans disagree about – whether to risk a shutdown to block the law – rather than that on which all Republicans and most voters agree – that the law should be blocked.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has so far won the procedural fight with Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and the conservative caucus of the GOP. Reid’s legislative strategy needs 60 votes in favor of the bill de-funding ObamaCare and then can carve up the House-passed measure with just 51 votes. Without 41 votes to block the bill from coming up for a vote, Cruz can’t protect it from Reid. Nor can he ask for a ransom of a delay or any change to the law to let the vote proceed.
Obama Democrats are wallowing deep in this procedural gobbledygook. They’re holding out hope that somehow a shutdown, once so tantalizingly close before House Speaker John Boehner agreed to proceed with his own de-funding measure, can somehow be resurrected. They’re ready with “extremist” and “anarchist” quotes. They’re zooming in on mental pictures of a tight-lipped Obama striding to the microphones to denounce brinksmanship. They’re writing their own “West Wing” fan fiction.
They are joined, as ever, by a chorus of self-loathing Republicans who race to the studios of Gibbs’ employer to denounce their own party. “Freak show!” they scream. “Self-destruction!” they wail. (The stated reason for these rants is to correct the wrongs in the GOP, as if telling Democrats what’s wrong with Republicans is the way to usher in GOP reform. What it really sounds like is a pretty grim way to make a living.)
But what if what happens this time is what happened before? What if Congress somehow extrudes another small-scale measure to keep the government borrowing and spending for a little longer? What if Obama is forced to concede on his demands to increase spending and both sides leave the table unsatisfied?
What would happen then is that the Republicans would be on the record in resisting, one more time, Obama’s law and then it’s on to implementation. And that’s when the GOP stands together again at the moment of maximal political advantage.
Some Democrats are trying to place the blame for problems with the law on Republican resistance, but when the president embraced the moniker ObamaCare, he sealed his political fate for the months to come. The president’s promises may be vindicated by history if America comes to love his middle-class, health-insurance entitlement. But that won’t be much help for the next six months.
Obama is heading (staying) out on the campaign trail to try to sell the law to a skeptical public. But there will be little good news to tout as employers and insurance companies brace for impact. The administration may have been able to squash some public complaints before, but the stampede is on. Whether they’re using the law as an excuse or if they’re sincere, health insurance providers will continue to dump workers, pump up rates and ditch coverage. We are entering the free-fire zone on private health insurance and Democrats will get the blame.
Government shutdown scares may come and go. ObamaCare is forever.
Chris Stirewalt is digital politics editor for Fox News. His Power Play column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays at FoxNews.com. Catch Chris live online weekdays at 11:30 am ET. Read his “Fox News First” newsletter published each weekday morning. Sign up here.
Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.