Posted by Phineas
On an emotional level, I sympathize one hundred percent with the move fronted by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) to fight Obamacare by passing a continuing budget resolution that funds all the operations of government except for Obamacare. The idea would be to put the onus for a government shutdown on Obama and the Democrats, thus forcing him to sign the bill to keep the government (and his constituency of federal employees) running.
The strategy, however, is dangerously flawed. And there’s a scene in The Maltese Falcon (1) that I think illustrates why defunding won’t work. Bear with me a bit, and imagine Obama as Sam Spade and Ted Cruz as Kasper Gutman:
Spade: “If you kill me, how are you going to get the bird? If I know you can’t afford to kill me, how are you going to scare me into giving it to you?”
Gutman: “Well, sir, there are other means of persuasion besides killing and threatening to kill.”
Spade: “Sure, but they aren’t much good unless the threat of death is behind them. See what I mean? If you start anything I’ll make it a matter of your having to kill me or call it off.”
Gutman: “That’s an attitude, sir, that calls for the most delicate judgment on both sides — because, as you know, sir, in the heat of action men are likely to forget where their best interests lie and let their emotions carry them away.”
Trouble is, I don’t think Cruz, Lee, Paul, and others in the “defund it” caucus have exercised that delicate political judgment and conservatives itching for a fight are letting their “emotions carry them away.”
In today’s Conservative Intelligence Briefing, David Freddoso explaining why this is a bad plan, and it’s for the same reasons Gutman couldn’t afford to kill Spade. Here’s an excerpt:
1) Even if you like this tactic, it’s important to understand first that it is indeed a threat to shut down the government, despite its advocates’ protestations to the contrary. This tactic cannot work, even under the most optimistic scenario, unless its advocates shut down the government for a very long time and eventually force President Obama to cry “uncle.”
You can’t make Obama sign a bill defunding Obamacare over the mere threat of a government shutdown. Not only is the actual shutdown necessary, but it will have to last several weeks, months, or even straight through until the next election before he’ll sign such a bill.
Obama sacrificed control of Congress to get his health care law. He isn’t going to sign a bill defunding it now because he’s spooked by the prospect of a couple of days of embassy, Library of Congress, passport office and National Park closures. He’d much sooner let the shutdown happen and take political advantage of the consequences — stories of government workers going months without a paycheck and Americans forced to cancel international travel because they can’t get passports renewed. And even if it gets to the point that Obama really, really wants to cry uncle, he probably won’t ever get the chance to do it, because the Democratic Senate will not pass any appropriations bill that defunds Obamacare.
Two points, in my opinion, are key: first that the Democratic-controlled Senate will never pass a defunding resolution that comes out of the House. Budget bills are immune to filibuster under Senate rules, so all Reid has to do is pass his own resolution that funds Obamacare (he’ll only need 51 votes) and send it to conference committee to work out a “compromise” with the House. And then, if the House holds firm, it will be endless cries of “extremist, heartless Republicans,” which I guarantee you the MSM will support wholly. It would be a PR battle I very much doubt our side could win and which could cost us heavily in the coming elections.
Second, if a resolution does pass the Senate, he can veto it safe in the knowledge that it won’t be overridden. Heck, Reid could let a few vulnerable Red-state Democrats vote for it, giving them cover in the 2014 elections, and then sustain the veto. (He’d only need 33 or 34 out of his caucus.) As Freddoso points out, Obama has already shown himself willing to sacrifice his own caucus to win passage of Obamacare; what makes anyone think he, not facing reelection, will cave now knowing that he can probably win the messaging war?
No, the better plan is to fight this anti-constitutional monstrosity where it’s weakest and where we have strong public support: its failure to lower the costs of health care, its burdensome taxes and regulations, its disruption of existing health care arrangements, and the unfairness of its blatant cronyism, for example delaying the employer mandate (illegally) while leaving the individual mandate in place. Attacking on those fronts is not only realistic, but it would keep the Democrats on the defensive.
Do that, pick our battles wisely, and we can still beat this thing.
(1) On my list of top-ten movies, ever.
(Crossposted at Public Secrets)