Raising the Stakes

Boehner and Defunding Obamacare

09.18.13 6:32 PM ET

So the House leadership announced earlier today that there will be a vote in the House to defund Obamacare related to the kerfuffle over the looming government shutdown. In a way, this doesn't change the basic dynamic at play here. Greg Sargent gamed out the scenarios in a post, sizing up possible Senate responses to such a vote, and they all end up in the same place: Since Senate Democrats will never accept a defunding and will just toss a bill back to the House stripping that out, the House Republicans are likely to end up in a position where either they accept that, thus infuriating their base, or say we won't accept, thus shouldering most of the blame for a government shutdown.

In that sense this new announcement doesn't change anything. These were the stakes yesterday. But I think it changes things psychically. Such a vote, assuming it passes, will constitute a much more recalcitrant public stance than would be the case if the party didn't take such a vote.

Without a vote defunding Obamacare, only a relatively small percentage of the population can probably keep track of what's going on. It's an argument about the sequester and funding levels. That's an argument that any reasonably skilled pol can fudge and turn into a situation that leaves most observers walking away thinking well, they're both probably lying, and the truth is somewhere in the middle, and they're both to blame.

But if the House Republicans essentially take the position "Congress must defund this existing and Supreme Court-okayed law or else we're going to shut down the government" is, I think, another matter entirely. Most of them don't care. Most of them care only about the blowback in their distrcits, and for most Republicans, there will be far more blowback against a member who doesn't vote to defund than against a member who is seen as having 1/435th of a hand in the shutting down of government. In a lot of these districts, the latter would even be applauded.

But the leadership is supposed to think differently, take a slightly broader view. I suppose they think that can get away with it because the ACA is still basically unpopular, even though a new batch of polls is showing that larger pluralities have come to accept the fact that it does exist and Republicans should drop all this mishegos. Or it's just another case of Boehner caving in.

If it's really true that he's leaving at the end of this Congress, it'd be nice to think that he'll take one stand against his crazies. Just one. Permit a vote on the immigration bill, say. But I doubt he will. He's retiring, but presumably not to move back to Cincy to run his old bar. He's headed straight to K Street, and if he's going to earn that $5 million a year and Congressional Country Club lifetime membership (if he doesn't already have one), he's going to have to keep good relations with his successor.