The Republican base must not require its representatives in Congress to run off a cliff and commit suicide as the price of avoiding a primary challenge in 2014. The tea party must not eat its young.
The polling shows that there are nowhere near the preconditions that would have to be in place for a government shutdown over defunding Obamacare. While voters oppose Obamacare by 38-54 percent, they also oppose defunding it by 38-44 percent, according to the latest Hill poll. And, when it comes to shutting down the government to force its defunding, opposition swells to 19-59 percent.
To force Republican Congressmen to side with the 19 percent against the 59 percent is to endanger the gains we made in 2010 and hasten the day of Democratic control of the House.
How do voters reconcile their opposition to Obamacare with their opposition to a government shutdown to defund it? Think of the metaphor of teachers’ pay and schools. Voters strongly favor increases in teacher pay. But they just as strongly oppose teacher strikes, which close down schools as a way of achieving higher pay.
It’s hard to understand that some voters depend on government and still others worry that its shutdown would cut off their social security checks. In any case, the whole idea of a government shutdown is a huge negative, implying a total inability of the two parties to co-exist or to govern.
And polling suggests that voters are far more likely to blame Republicans for gridlock and conflict in Washington than Democrats.
Instead of baiting its supporters to shut down the government to defund Obamacare, the tea party and base voters should be demanding a firm stand on increasing the debt limit. While voters feel there is nothing positive to be achieved by shutting down the government, they do agree with stopping additional government borrowing until or unless there are substantial cuts in spending.
Debt, especially government debt, has a bad odor in this era of a $15 trillion national debt. Extending the debt limit — raising the limit on the government’s credit card — is very unpopular, especially if it is not matched by a cut in public spending.
The Republican insistence on sequester cuts as the price for the last debt-limit extension triggered the first real deficit reduction since the Clinton years. Despite the feeling of a few that the sequester was a negative for the Republicans, it was not. It is just what the public wanted.
Republicans should pass enough of a debt limit expansion to accommodate debt-service payments for 30 days and then demand that any further expansion must be subject to spending cuts. Eliminating the medical-device tax, scaling back Obamacare, capping means-tested entitlements like Medicaid and food stamps, and even basic tax reform should be on the agenda. Having cut discretionary spending to very low levels, Republicans should turn to entitlements — not Social Security or Medicare, but to welfare spending — and insist on caps.
If the Democrats stand firm and demand a clean debt-limit expansion, Republicans could then force a government shutdown by refusing to raise the debt limit (except to pay debt service already owed). While this will be the same battle as would ensue over the continuing resolution, it would be on very different and much more advantageous terrain. Voters would see the linkage between spending cuts and the debt limit and would heartily approve of the Republican position. President Obama, on the other hand, would find himself begging to be allowed more borrowing, not a good message to have to sell.