Everyone knows that summer ends with the Labor Day weekend, with the picnics and mattress sales and that one final swim in the lake or whatever – except it doesn’t. There’s the realm of sidereal time and celestial mechanics. Summer actually ends with the autumnal equinox – when the plane of the earth’s equator passes the center of the sun, when the days stop getting longer and start getting shorter. Actually the days remain the same twenty-four hours. The hours of darkness slowly increase. The autumnal equinox is the turning point. That’s the moment things change. That’s when things inevitably get darker. It’s simple geometry, and this year that happens on Sunday, September 22, in the middle of the afternoon out here in Los Angeles, where it’s always sunny anyway. It’s just that one should be precise about these things. There is a precise moment when the world starts to get darker and darker and darker. That’s when you should make adjustments. Things will get very dark indeed. Just wait.
The Republicans in Washington didn’t wait. On the Friday before the equinox they made their move to shut down the government over Obamacare, which won’t work – they didn’t have the votes to stop it from passing in 2010, and they didn’t have the votes to repeal it in 2011, and they didn’t have the votes to win the presidency and the Senate by campaigning against it in 2012, and they really have no way to stop it in 2013 – not now. They lost this battle long ago, and a shutdown, bringing on the pain, would make them look like jerks, or spoiled brats, or worse. Half the party is telling them this is suicidal – this would make Americans despise the Republican Party even more than they do already. Even Bill O’Reilly is saying that. Making sure thirty or forty million more Americans don’t have the chance to buy low-cost subsidized health insurance from private-sector parties may be important, in some theoretical way that ties back to Ronald Reagan or Ayn Rand, but the operational cost is too high – and it won’t work anyway. Obama and the Senate are still there. But these are dark days, or the beginning of dark days.
The darkness began with this:
House Republicans muscled through a stopgap bill Friday that would fund the government only if all spending for President Obama’s health care law is eliminated. Senate Democrats and President Obama quickly made it clear they had no intention of going along, putting the government on a course toward a shutdown unless one side relents.
The 230-to-189 party-line vote in a bitterly divided House set in motion a fiscal confrontation with significant implications – politically and economically – but with an uncertain ending. Without a resolution, large parts of the government could shut down Oct. 1, and a first-ever default on federal debt could follow weeks later.
Each side predicted that the other would be held responsible, but determined House Republicans knew they were taking a risk even as leaders of the party’s establishment warned about the threat of destructive political consequences.
That’s about it. The current Republican thinking is that they’ll force a government shutdown unless Obama agrees to defund Obamacare and dismantle it, and if that doesn’t work, because it won’t work, they’ll refuse to raise the debt limit. Unless the debt limit is raised we will default on our Treasury bonds – we won’t be able to pay even the interest on all the money we’ve borrowed to fund two major wars and two major tax breaks for the rich folks – and that would plunge the global economy into total chaos and collapse, because US Treasuries are the one safe place where pretty much the entire world parks its money – thus the world’s financial system falls apart. Major governments everywhere would be holding useless paper, worth nothing now. Republicans think that this is real leverage – they can bring on the pain, big time, for everyone, worldwide, unless Obama agrees to dismantle a law that was passed fair and fair and square, long ago, that survived a Supreme Court challenge too. They seem to be pissed off at the democratic process. They hate it. Everyone voted the wrong way, over and over, and they want to nullify all those votes.
Obama called House Speaker John Boehner on Friday evening to remind him that he would not negotiate with him on raising the federal debt limit, by the way, and reminded Boehner that it was Congress’s constitutional obligation to pay the nation’s bills. They were the ones who ran up those bills, after all. The House authorizes all spending. By all accounts this was a brief call, and quite unpleasant. The days are getting darker, and now the Senate, controlled by the Democrats, will take up the House bill. They’ll amend the bill, taking out the bit about defunding Obamacare, and send the amended bill back to the House. They’ll not pass that. They’re locked into the position on this, and the government will shut down in about ten days. Congress hasn’t passed a budget in many years, just one continuing resolution after another, to fund operations at their current levels, because no one can agree on anything, and this is just one more of those – but they can’t figure out a way to pass this one, not this time.
They can no longer afford to agree on anything. Too many Republicans were elected by angry Tea Party voters who will toss them out on their ear if they even hint that they might agree on a little give-and-take to get at least some of what their constituents want. It’s all or nothing, and that’s a structural change. There’s no going back, and that gave Obama an opening:
Visiting Missouri, Mr. Obama struck back at Republicans a few hours after the vote.
“They’re focused on politics,” Mr. Obama told autoworkers at a Ford plant in Liberty. “They’re focused on trying to mess with me; they’re not focused on you.”
In a searing criticism of those threatening to refuse to raise the debt ceiling next month, causing the United States to default on its debts, Mr. Obama called the potential action “profoundly destructive.” If it happens, he said, “America becomes a deadbeat.”
That was a twist of the knife, but the matter is in the hands of the Senate now, where the new senator from Texas, Ted Cruz, is leading the charge to get the Senate to agree with the House bill that effectively ends Obamacare, but that isn’t going well:
Representative Peter King said today’s vote on the continuing resolution with Obamacare defunding would hopefully be “a major step in letting people know that Ted Cruz is a fraud.”
“I hope people will get the message this guy is bad for the party,” King said before the vote, and declared that Cruz would “no longer have any influence in the Republican Party” after the votes were tallied.
This isn’t the first time King has been derisive of the defunding strategy or of Cruz. Yesterday, he compared the strategy to several military disasters, including Custer’s last stand at Little Bighorn and the Allies’ Gallipoli Campaign in WWI, and said that House Republicans should stop “letting Ted Cruz set our agenda for us.”
Peter King is with Bill O’Reilly – this is political suicide, and Cruz is a fool for wanting to fight a losing battle. If you die fighting you’re still dead, but Ted Cruz has been on his high horse for weeks about a “surrender caucus” in the Republican Party, those who are insufficiently dedicated to the sacred cause of defunding Obamacare – and the rest of the Republican Party has come to despise the guy. Even if you agree with him he’s a holier-than-thou scold, and if you disagree with him he’ll call you a coward or a tool of Obama, on national television. He’s a hero to the Tea Party crowd. Those who actually hold public office find him a pain in the ass, and the question is now whether he will put his money where his mouth is and filibuster any attempt to remove defunding Obamacare from the bill as it moves to the Senate.
That’s an interesting question, and Sarah Binder, considering the details of Senate procedure, considers how such things work. Once the House transmits this bill which includes language defunding Obamacare it seems that Ted is out of luck:
Harry Reid offers a motion to proceed and then files cloture. Will Cruz filibuster? How can he? At this point, the bill under consideration is the one the House sent over, which includes the defunding language. He can hardly filibuster that.
Reid then offers an amendment to strike defunding from the bill.
Now Reid files cloture on the bill itself. Will Cruz filibuster? Again, how can he? At this point, this is still the original House bill, complete with the provision to defund Obamacare.
So cloture will succeed, at which point the Senate has 30 hours to debate the bill. Reid’s amendment comes up for a vote, and since amendments only require a simple majority, it passes.
At the end of 30 hours, the bill itself gets a vote, and a simple majority is enough to pass it – so the bill, with defunding struck out, passes easily.
Kevin Drum considers all that, and finds it amusing:
In other words, there’s no point at which Cruz can filibuster, because he’d be preventing a vote on the very bill he wants to pass. Then, once the defunding clause is struck out, subsequent votes require only a simple majority.
House Republicans are pissed off at Cruz for conceding on Wednesday that Reid “likely” has the votes to strip the defunding language from the House bill. Cruz is surrendering! But my guess is that a little birdie explained the facts of life to Senator Ted, and once the light bulb went off he realized that he was trapped. He had talked a good game, but there was nothing he could do that wouldn’t make him look like an idiot. So he began the painful but inevitable process of backing down. Poor Ted.
Yes, poor Ted – he really is a fraud – but that simply passes the problem back to the House, where it’s John Boehner’s problem once again. It’s a bit of a hot potato, and the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein tries to figure out his strategy:
1) The action moves to the Senate, and reporters stop reporting that Boehner doesn’t have a shadow of control over his Republican members;
2) Sen. Ted Cruz tries and fails to defund Obamacare in the Senate’s continuing resolution;
3) The Democrat-led Senate sends the House a continuing resolution that doesn’t defund Obamacare;
4) Boehner shrugs, says he tried, and persuades his members to let him bring the Senate’s bill to the floor;
5) The House passes the Senate’s measure, President Obama signs it, and everyone moves onto the next crisis.
That does seem to be the plan, and it’s workable, but Klein is worried:
The problem comes in No. 4 – Boehner isn’t going to simply shrug, say he tried, and bring the Senate bill to the floor. He’ll shrug, say he tried, and tell his members that they should let him bring the Senate bill to the floor. He’ll say it’s because they need to save their fire for the debt ceiling fight, where they can force the White House to delay Obamacare for a year by threatening to trigger a global financial crisis. In fact, this is already the message he’s delivering to his members.
Cruz isn’t the one who’s dangerous:
There’s been a lot of talk – much of it among Republicans – about how irresponsible Ted Cruz is being in his fight to defund Obamacare or shut the government down trying. But Boehner and the rest of the House GOP leadership is being much more irresponsible in their promises to delay Obamacare or cause a global financial crisis while trying. And the way they’re going to get past Cruz’s irresponsible threats is to double down on their own, even more irresponsible, threats.
The days really are getting darker, which Matt Lewis in the Guardian (UK) summarizes this way:
Let’s start with the caveat that all Republicans believe Obamacare is horrible and that the law is wildly unpopular with a majority of Americans.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s also admit that – even as the first shot has been fired in the GOP’s congressional war against Obamacare – the defund scheme is (unfortunately) absurd. I know it, you know it. Hell, the people pushing it know it. So, why are so many grassroots conservatives convinced it’s a good idea?
How did these days get so dark? This isn’t a question of celestial mechanics in this case. None of this was inevitable, and Lewis speculates that a lot of this was just what he calls a bias toward positive action:
Grassroots conservatives are eager to hear a positive report; they have no tolerance for a realistic appraisal. And this has much to do with whom they choose to believe…
That’s a real problem here:
Many Tea Party activists and grassroots conservatives understandably outsource their research to trusted leaders. After all, these conservatives are busy with families and work to look into the byzantine rules of whether or not the Senate could even filibuster to defund Obamacare, etc. If a trusted leader like Rush Limbaugh or Ted Cruz assures them that this can be done – and that the only problem is wimpy Republicans who just need to grow a pair – then they believe it. I don’t buy the notion that “the masses are asses” – instead, I think conservative leaders have a greater responsibility to shoot straight with their followers and not to exploit them for selfish fundraising or public relations purposes.
In fairness, some conservative leaders probably do see this as a negotiating strategy. In other words, in their heart of hearts, they know they can’t defund Obamacare, but they think raising a stink over this issue might help them cut a better deal somewhere else. There are problems with this. For one thing, feigning a belief in the irrational requires not just fooling your adversaries, but also fooling your own friends (whom you’ve misled – used as pawns – by raising their hopes for a quixotic cause.)
That’s a bit vile, but Lewis also considers the possibility that these folks just don’t respect their opponents:
It’s a good idea to have a good, healthy respect for the other guy. After all, they are pros, too. They get paid to win, too. But consider this from National Review reporter Robert Costa, who is known for his excellent sourcing within the GOP – “There is a widespread, [Ted] Cruz-inspired consensus among many conservatives that [Obama] will cave, if only pushed by grassroots.”
But grassroots conservatives seem to lack the ability to put themselves in the other guys’ shoes. Grassroots conservatives should ask themselves this question: if you were Obama, would you allow Republicans to bully you into defunding the only landmark legislation you’ll probably ever pass? If you wouldn’t cave, why do you assume he will?
There is that, and having no sense of history:
In the last decade, we’ve seen a couple of waves of immigration into the conservative movement. The first wave was largely after 9/11, and the second wave was in the wake of President Obama’s election. Many of these newly-minted conservatives lack historical perspective. Sometimes, this is actually a good thing. But sometimes, experience in politics really is a benefit: sometimes “wise old men” really are needed. And those of us old enough to remember the last government shutdown, when Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton played this high-stakes game and Clinton won, probably have more realistic expectations concerning which side will get blamed.
Yet, a lot of folks supporting the defund effort seem to have a delusional belief that Democrats will somehow get blamed if there is a government shutdown. And they assume that just because people don’t support Obamacare, they will support this scheme. (This, of course, is a logical fallacy.)
Then Lewis adds this:
Part of the problem is that they adhere to what conservative leader (and my former boss) Morton Blackwell calls the Sir Galahad theory of politics, which says: “I will win because my heart is pure.” In other words, since Obamacare is self-evidently bad, we can’t lose. This, of course, is a misunderstanding of the real nature of politics. Consider Barry Goldwater’s failed campaign, which was premised on the notion that “In your heart, you know he’s right.”
There’s that, or they’ve given up:
A lot of conservatives are understandably frustrated. They believe they are losing their country, and want something to be done about it right this minute. Now, I might argue that the defund Obamacare effort is actually counterproductive to their goals. This is because: a) it can’t be done; and b) trying to defund Obamacare might have the unintended consequence of costing Republicans at the ballot box. My opinion is premised on the notion that the only way to stop Obamacare is to win elections and repeal it. Not only will procedural efforts to derail it not work, but they might also be viewed as an attempt at nullification.
That’s an interesting speculation – they know they’ve lost and want to be seen as noble losers in a good but righteous cause, in a tragic but romantically heroic way. The American South is filled with such people, flying their Confederate flags and weeping at the gallant sacrifice of the Flower of the South, the true gentlemen of long ago. They haven’t the slightest idea why any local black person would be upset by any of that – gallantry is a wonderful thing. It’s that Lost Cause of the Confederacy thing – Southern nobility fought bravely and fairly, and Northern generals were crude and vile and had no sense of fair play, as seen in Sherman’s March to the Sea, and Ulysses S. Grant was a damned alcoholic. There may be a hint of that kind of thinking here too. The Tea Party crowd is heavily white and Southern. The Republican Party itself has become the Party of the South – that’s where almost all their electoral votes are. It’s easy to slip into thinking of yourself as a loser, but a loser who should have won, if the world were as it should be. It’s self-pity as a defense mechanism. That may be happening here, or else, Lewis speculates, this crowd may have simply decided that revolution is fun:
Some of the activists involved in the defund effort do not see themselves as statesmen or as participants in the normal business of democracy, but rather as revolutionaries. This probably has to do with the rise of a more libertarian flavor of conservatism (some of these folks have read too much Robert Heinlein and Ayn Rand), as well as the fact that many of the recent influx of immigrants into the conservative movement came from the left (and have co-opted the Saul Alinsky playbook – which is a disturbing trend, inasmuch as he dedicated his book Rules for Radicals to Lucifer).
In any event, one gets the sense that grassroots conservatives seem themselves as being part of a new, romantic cause. And let’s be honest, it is much more romantic – much more fun – to try to destroy something via guerrilla means than it is to work within the system to change it. And here’s something the leaders of Tea Party groups understand: young people are probably more susceptible to this sort of calling…
No good will come of this:
This same sort of suspension of disbelief, no doubt, was at work when many conservatives were utterly convinced Mitt Romney would win the election last November. So why does this matter? The problem with not learning your lessons is that you tend to repeat your mistakes. The GOP base needs to gain some insight into its behavior here. Otherwise, if it lets its “id” drive this response to Obamacare, it’s going to end up in another political train wreck.
No, not a train wreck – dark days are coming, each day darker than the one before. It’s that time of year. Republicans are just making our national politics align with celestial mechanics.