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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Democrats won't cave on Obamacare -- but on everything else...?


I am getting weary of progressives' reflexive head-shaking over Republican "craziness" and mainstream reporters' warnings that the GOP may commit electoral suicide by ceding policy to their most extreme members.

Perhaps they will.  A party does not have a single will. There are doubtless Tea Party diehards that would shut down the government, push the nation into default, and never vote for any funding bill that includes the discretionary funding for Obamacare.

But they will not ultimately dictate the party's actions. What I strongly suspect will happen is that the Senate GOP will run down the clock, filibustering the so-called "clean" continuing resolution (with the Obamacare defund stripped out) until the last minute, then win a series of concessions making the horrendous House spending provisions worse -- shifting more funding under overall sequester caps from domestic to defense -- in exchange for allowing a vote [correction 9/24: Democrats need only a simple majority to amend the unchanged House CR -- thus, it's unlikely to get worse. But current reporting is confident that Senate Democrats will not amend the CR's spending provisions.] Then Senate Democrats will pat themselves on the back for "standing firm" against defunding Obamacare -- while locking in the sequester as a new funding baseline and shielding defense spending from much of its bite. Comforting reports that Red State Senate Democrats won't vote to defund Obamacare serve only to convince me that they'll give away everything else in the store.

And that's before we hit the debt ceiling. I can't imagine what will happen as Republicans crank up a new series of demands for the latter. Alternatively, they may indeed shut down the government, face down the outcry for two weeks until the debt ceiling looms, and then effectively force Obama to negotiate the CR under threat of default, even as he claims he isn't doing so.  Again, I don't expect a cave on Obamacare funding -- just on everything else.

It's true, as Jonathan Bernstein asserts, that the defund Obamacare hysteria is "a scam on conservatives," bilking Tea Party true believers on behalf of a doomed quest.  At the same time, though, the "defund" demand is a giant red cape waved at Democrats.  While we stare transfixed, GOP leadership will ultimately pull the cape away -- and stick us with ruinous domestic spending cuts.

The loosening the of the sequestration caps on defense spending, meanwhile, will ease any mounting pressure on Republicans to find a substitute. Does anyone envision Democrats winning any kind of rollback in, say, December? That's why Obama -- or some future Democratic president -- needs to find a way to flip the script.

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