Wednesday, September 18, 2013

House will vote on CR, including defunding Obamacare

Speaker of the House John Boehner announced today that he would put a continuing resolution (CR) up for a vote later this week. The CR is just a budget placeholder that continues current levels of federal spending. Nothing too crazy in simply doing that, aside from the fact that it contains sequester cuts and general austerity while the economy is still not doing well. But that's probably about the best deal that can pass the House. And we probably won't get a better deal if we let Republicans shut down the gov't. So all things considered it's probably best to swallow a crappy CR and move on.

The really ridiculous thing about Boehner's announcement is that the CR will include a provision that defunds Obamacare (or ACA). This has been the Republican hobby horse from the moment the ACA passed. The reason (aside from Republicans just being crazy) is that they see this as a political winner for them. Their opposition kept the bill moderate in the first place. And since it's passing, they have complained about how horrible it is, helping push public opinion about the overall bill in the negative (though when you poll people about specific parts of the bill they generally support it).

After opposing the ACA loudly during its passage and in the run up to the 2010 midterm election, Republicans made big gains in Congress, gaining control back from Democrats in the House and taking away Democrats' super-majority in the Senate. Republicans interpreted that outcome as an indictment on the ACA and evidence that the public supported their preference for completely getting rid of it. So combine what they view as a great political opportunity with something they seem to believe is a good thing ideologically and you get Republicans voting for 30 something times to "Defund Obamacare".

Not winning the presidency in 2012 and only making very small gains in Congress didn't deter the defund Obamacare effort for many Republicans. But as recently as this past March, Boehner realized that there were limits to the effort, telling some crazy right wing talk radio host that the House couldn't pass a CR with a provision to defund Obama and avoid gov't shutdown (Chris Hayes played the audio on his show tonight). He was explaining that to the right wing because they are crazy enough to want a gov't shutdown (or even worse, default after not raising the debt ceiling). And Boehner understands the problems that caused Republicans in 1995 and that it will likely hurt his party if they do it again. Given that, why would Boehner now allow the House to vote on a CR that includes defunding Obamacare?

I don't think Boehner changed his mind on the prospects of getting a CR passed. He still doesn't want to shut down the gov't. But he hasn't been able to convince enough Republicans in the House that they can either get the Senate and Obama to defund Obamacare or understand that a gov't shutdown will hurt them. So my best guess as to why Boehner chose to schedule a vote this week is to try to placate the tea party wing of the House. Some of them could be crazy enough to think they actually have a chance to defund Obamacare. But maybe some just want to be able to tell their constituents that they did all they could to defund it after they finally have to let Boehner pass a CR they don't like.

This CR will pass the House and die quickly in the Senate and we'll be left with the looming threat of a gov't shutdown. At that point Boehner will either be dealing with tea partiers who have learned their lesson and are willing to negotiate in order to pass a CR or he'll have to reach out to Democrats in the House in order to pass a CR. My best bet there is that tea partiers really are that crazy and will not negotiate. So it will be up to Pelosi, Reid, Obama, Cantor and McConnell to come up with a CR everyone can live with. Tea partiers in the House and Senate will scream bloody murder that Obamacare is still around and the gov't didn't shut down and move along to trying to defund it in exchange for raising the debt ceiling. And I expect both deals to avoid a shut down and default to be pretty crappy, thus giving the tea party and Republicans part of what they want, all the while the country continues to suffer under a poor economy.

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