Now that the House of Representatives has passed its bill to keep the government open and rid the world of Obamacare, the full strategic disaster the Republicans have embarked upon is coming into focus. The procedure is a little confusing, but once we disentangle the steps, it quickly becomes clear that the Republicans have started a dumpster fire they have no obvious way to extinguish.
It’s important to keep in mind that a government shutdown does not, in and of itself, stop Obamacare from going forward. Most of the money for that law has been appropriated through channels (tax credits, state-based exchanges, etc.) immune to shutdown. The Obamacare-shutdown method relies on the hope that keeping the government shut down proves so annoying to the president that he (or a filibuster-proof majority in both houses) submits to abolishing his health-care reform in return for reopening the government. That is the only way shutting down the government could result in the defunding of Obamacare.
Step one of this far-fetched scheme was the passage of a “continuing resolution,” which keeps the government open, attached to abolishing Obamacare. Now it goes to the Senate. Once that bill comes up for a vote in the Senate, the majority can vote to strip away the provision defunding Obamacare. That vote can’t be filibustered. It’s a simple majority vote, and Democrats have the majority.
What Senate Republicans can do is filibuster to prevent the bill from coming to a vote at all. That’s the only recourse the Senate defunders have. And Ted Cruz is promising to do just that: “ I hope that every Senate Republican will stand together,” he says, “and oppose cloture on the bill in order to keep the House bill intact and not let Harry Reid add Obamacare funding back in.” A “committed defunder” in the Senate likewise tells David Drucker, “Reid must not be allowed to fund Obamacare with only 51 votes.”
In other words, the new stop-Obamacare plan now entails filibustering the defunders’ own bill. They can do this with just 41 votes in the Senate, if they can get them. But consider how terrible this situation is for the Republicans. If they fail, it will be because a handful of Republicans joined with Democrats to break the filibuster, betraying the defunders. This means the full force of the defund-Obamacare movement – which is itself very well funded by rabid grassroots conservatives eager to save the country from the final socialistic blow of Obamacare — will come down on the handful of Senate Republicans who hold its fate in their hands. The old plan at least let angry conservatives blame Democrats for blocking their goal of defunding Obamacare. Now the defunders can turn their rage against fellow Republicans, creating a fratricidal, revolution-eats-its-own bloodletting.
But what if it succeeds? Well, success means the government shuts down because the Senate Republican majority has successfully filibustered a vote on the House bill preventing a shutdown.
Remember, the whole Republican plan to win the shutdown fight is to pin the blame on Obama. Obama is trying to shut down the government, they are already saying, and we’re trying to keep it open. That message depends on both houses of Congress passing a law that defunds Obamacare, and Obama refusing to sign it. Then they can present themselves as having acted to keep the government open, and Obama refusing to go along merely because he doesn’t want to snatch health insurance away from 20 million people.
It’s a patently disingenuous argument that stands no chance of success. But even that patently disingenuous message relies on establishing the optics of Obama refuses to sign our bill. Now the Republican plan relies instead on maintaining a Republican filibuster in the Senate, in perpetuity, to prevent a vote on a bill to open the government. They have maneuvered themselves into the least tenable position to defend a plan that never stood a chance of succeeding in the first place.