The Master Plan: How Hill Tea Partiers See the Budget Fight Unfolding

To many Republicans, and all Democrats, the House GOP's demand to defund Obamacare or shut down the federal government is bad strategy. But that's not how the Tea Party sees it

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J. Scott Applewhite / AP

Texas Senator Ted Cruz, center, speaks at a news conference with conservative congressional Republicans at the Capitol in Washington on Sept. 19, 2013

For one day, in one place, all was right in the United States Congress.

“A day of victory,” declared Mike Lee, a Republican Senator from Utah, standing on a media stage in the Capitol, surrounded by true conservatives. All were early supporters of Lee’s quixotic campaign to force a final showdown over Barack Obama’s health care law, one that could shutter the federal government or trigger national default if Democrats don’t cave. Until last week, top congressional Republicans derided the idea as a pipe dream. Now, with just 10 days until a government shutdown, it is the official House Republican position. And so the eight Representatives and two Senators were taking a triumphant victory lap, a day before the full House is expected to pass their plan in a Friday vote. “Conventional wisdom in Washington said this day was impossible,” rhapsodized Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, Republican Senators were huffing that the effort was pure fantasy. “Everybody knows we can’t win this fight,” grumbled Utah’s Orrin Hatch. The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, a reliable cheerleader for conservative doctrine, compared the architects of the defund plan to kamikaze pilots. Senior strategists warned that sparking a shutdown over a lost cause was a good way to hand Democrats the House.

But that is not how the unofficial congressional Tea Party caucus sees it. To them, there is plenty of time to play ping-pong with budget proposals over the next 11 days. The notion that Republicans would bear the blame for the economic fallout is, to the insurgents’ eyes, a talking point parroted by the liberal media. And if a shutdown ensues, they say, the blame would fall on Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, for defying American voters who dislike the law. “We believe we have taken a compromise position,” said Idaho Representative Raúl Labrador, explaining that his group had dropped its insistence on a full repeal of the President’s signature legislative accomplishment as a condition of funding the government.

The press conference was like an alternate reality from the rest of Washington. All the accounts of fissures opening within the Republican ranks? Nonsense. “Today you see unity,” said second-term Representative Tom Graves, the 43-year-old Georgian who authored the House proposal to link defunding Obamacare with the so-called continuing resolution, which Congress must pass to keep the government running in the absence of a functional appropriations process. Speaker after speaker lavished praise on House Speaker John Boehner. And why not? Once cool to the tactic, Boehner buckled this week to the will of his members, scheduling a defunding vote that will eat up valuable floor time. “This is Boehner 2.0,” said Arizona Representative Matt Salmon, who served with the Speaker in the 1990s.

To these Republicans, the latest round of budget brinkmanship isn’t a matter of tactics or strategy in pursuit of a cleverly disguised goal. You just take a stand and let the chips fall where they may. “Why speculate on what Prince Harry might do?” said Kansas Representative Tim Huelskamp. Red-state Democrats like Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor, who is up for re-election in 2014, might peel off under the strain of a perilous vote, Huelskamp suggested. Obama, who has already signed several bills delaying or altering aspects of the Affordable Care Act, might do so again. The GOP strategy had worked, so why look ahead to the challenges next week might pose? Even savvy play-callers like Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, Buckeye State Congressman Jim Jordan said, only script the game’s opening drives.

Despite the supposed uncertainty, most members believe it is fairly clear how the next act of this drama plays out. On Friday, the House seems certain to pass the defund legislation by a strong majority. Then, as even Cruz admits, Reid will strip the defund provision from the House measure. “Any bill that defunds Obamacare is dead,” Reid said Thursday. “Dead.” Reaffirming its position, the White House blasted out a formal Statement of Administration Policy on Thursday promising a veto. By the middle of next week, just days before the deadline, the Senate will ship a clean funding measure across the building. At that point, House Republicans will have to decide whether to support a bill to keep the government running — or shoulder the burden of shuttering it.

That’s where things get complicated. Sometime during the last days of September, Boehner will likely have to try to persuade his members to support a clean funding bill. One argument he may make is that in a few weeks, Republicans can use the need to lift the U.S. debt ceiling as a leverage point to extract fiscal reforms, as they did successfully in 2011. But this time the backbenchers may not go along. “I don’t follow that reasoning,” Huelskamp says of the notion that the debt limit is a better fight to pick. A potential default could have even greater economic consequences than a partial shutdown, exposing the GOP to deeper public fury.

Huelskamp predicts that 60 to 70 of the 85 co-signers of the Graves resolution would refuse to back a funding bill that doesn’t at least delay Obamacare. That would force Boehner to violate the so-called Hastert Rule, which requires any bill brought to the floor to have majority GOP support, and pass the measure with a few dozen Democratic votes. Whether it happens on Sept. 30 or two weeks after that, House GOP leaders may be forced to abandon their Tea Party faction to avoid imperiling a fragile economy. Even the most ardent conservatives realize the risks at play.

“Shutdowns are bad. Shutdowns are not worth it,” Lee said in his triumphal huddle with Tea Partyers on Thursday. “This law is not worth a shutdown over.” But the Utah Republican wasn’t suddenly realizing the flaws in his strategy; he was imagining himself in Obama’s shoes, wondering whether the President would face “reality.” Outside the Capitol Hill media studio, around Washington and across the country, Republicans are wondering the same of Lee.

133 comments
bf526
bf526

Is it me or are all the nutjobs in the senate come from states with disproportional power in the government . How is it democracy when a state with not enough people for a congressional seat, gets two of 100 senate seats. This is what is wrong in Washington. North Dakota comes to mind,or Utah, home of the paranoids.

AnthonyMcMillan
AnthonyMcMillan

When exactly did the republican party become so "fiscally reforming"? In 2010 the govt. spent 59 billion dollars on all welfare programs, yet in the same year we spent 103 billion dollars on corporate subsidies. The following year the U.S. spent 103 billion dollars on corporate giveaways, almost twice as much as all social program costs combined. What they mean by fiscal reform, is eliminating any programs that help, "you". Corporate welfare is fine, anything that helps the average American, is apt to be cut. Fiscal reform....really?

Onepatriot
Onepatriot

If the moderates in Congress would join together and start a new party, (they could call it the Common Sense Party) we could sideline the tea party people who are causing so much trouble.  They'd never get enough support to do anything and hopefully go back to whatever they were doing before someone put a microphone in front of them.  It'd be interesting to see what John Boehner would do.  

skeezy99
skeezy99

Obviously, they are communists, not Republicans. They are actually going for duplicating Mr. Putin's style of government. Wake up, America! These good old boys are not Americans at all, and the rest of us won't be either, if we allow them to take over the government!

SamSweden
SamSweden

It is shameful how divided the US Senate is...The Republicans with their arrogant behaviour are ready to shutdown their country...not caring about the ordinary US citizens who will be badly effected by such shutdown...

small_axe
small_axe

On October 1st, America will reaffirm it's membership among the first world nations by joining every other industrialized democracy on Earth with some sort of nationalized health care, public or private.

May all who will be helped by it, whatever their stripe, know that they live in a country where people can work together, and chip in together.

Cooperation is every bit as dynamic a force as competition.

JohnShuck
JohnShuck

Ping pong? More like Russian roulette with a fully loaded pistol.

Subprimemortgag
Subprimemortgag

Health care for all.

Shut the government down.

What position seems crazier?

Tea Party allies, insurance companies and corporations.

ACA allies, people in need of affordable health care.

Who's side are you on?

danstpeter
danstpeter

Ends justifies the means? You can complain about these tactics, but if you are going to be "reality based" you have to be bi-partisan.  As far as lay opinions on the health care bill, there really isn't any.   A bill to large for for even the above average bear to read.  Lay opinions are really only the opinions of a parrot.

allthingsinaname
allthingsinaname

I do not think that Obamacare will do anything for the poor, with up front premium costs and up front high deductibles, they will not be able to afford to make use of it.

grape_crush
grape_crush

> And if a shutdown ensues, they say, the blame would fall on Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid, for defying American voters who dislike the law.

Which is why it's important for the Senate to pass that clean funding measure. The House will have a clean funding measure from the Senate as well as their own bill returned to them with the provision defunding the PPACA stripped out. The ball will firmly be in their court.

Hard for House GOPers to point blame for a shutdown at anyone else when they are the ones sitting on a bill that would prevent that from happening....and Boehner will be faced with two bad (for him) choices; break the Hastert rule and bring the cleaned bills to the floor for a vote or sit on them and let the government stop functioning.

Pretty much the same thing if the House Teabagger contingent decides to run the same play using the debt ceiling as its hostage later on. Hopefully the fact that legislation has to pass through two chambers of Congress and survive a veto will sink in to the less extreme members of the House GOP and they can spare themselves further embarrassment.

I wouldn't bet on that last part happening.

j45ashton
j45ashton

From a reply below..it occurred to me when DavidStrayer's post that it is so much smarter for the GOP to make their point and then leverage Obamacare in the next election if it fails.  But no...their response is to wreck the sandbox for everyone.  So you're 100% right.  Maturity, grace, other leadership qualities are the issues here.  With Boehner & Kantor capitulating, there are no parents left in the GOP.  Just a bunch of ranting babies.  That goes for Limbaugh, too, and about 80% of the so-called contributors on Fox News.



DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

I like the people claiming that defunding ACA is what America wants (even though it's not) as if this Congress actually cares what Americans want.  Oh the irony.

paulejb
paulejb

What if Obama shut down the government and nobody cared?

HazeAndDrizzle
HazeAndDrizzle

Hassert rule: a partisan measure designed to defy the majority of the American people created by the party that gets the minority of American votes, thus the consequence of a failed democracy and increasingly a failed state.

Perhaps we could borrow the Egyptian military since at the root the electoral process itself has been corrupted.


plaza
plaza

DavidStrayer ... This country is NOT a democracy.  It is a Constitutional Representative Republic.  

TeaPartiers ...Now what would have happened if the Founding Fathers had not compromised regarding slavery.  My guess is No United States as we know it. 

Regardless of other issues Obamacare is too much Government intrusion into the citizens lives

bf526
bf526

@BrandCustodian He is Canadian, born there like barry was born in Kenya. Not native born

JohnShuck
JohnShuck

@danstpeter The Republicans that are trying to defund this bill don't know what's in it either, they just know they don't like the present administration. This is foolhardy. It won't work and the Republicans will be the losers. I can't imagine a better scenario. They have done what the rank and file Democrats were too wishy washy to do, deconstruct the far right and make them irrelevant.

j45ashton
j45ashton

@allthingsinaname It's been widely told that those who can't afford health insurance under Obamacare will receive a subsidy from the gov't.  You are spreading disinformation.

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

@allthingsinaname That's what the extension of Medicaid is supposed to do. However, when you have governors like mine in PA who have refused to accept it, there will be a real problem for them.

anon76
anon76

@PaulDirks 

I think Boehner et al are giving Cruz and his ilk just enough rope to completely discredit themselves.  Maybe they're hoping that with enough embarrassing failures this time around the Teapartiers can be out-primaried.

paulejb
paulejb

@j45ashton 

Did the bribery, special favors, threats and arm twisting required to pass ObamaCare concern you at all?

Goodgal
Goodgal

I am in PA also. It is a shame our state was gerrymandered for a republican win. All the republican led states seem to be blocking implementation in anyway possible. I wish we could all move forward with real issues that need addressed. All this filer-busting, obstruction and game playing is hurting America. What a waste of time to defund ACA or vote to repeal it 41 times when it is still going to be implemented. The republican party needs to actually work on legislation that helps our economy and nation.

allthingsinaname
allthingsinaname

@Ivy_B @allthingsinaname  

Plus states that haven't set up exchanges complicate the issue. The bronze plan is a total joke, but then again it depends on what state etc. But 40% coinsurance , and not paying out anything until it  something like $5,000 deductible is met for only $57 a month. Might as well spend that money on cigarets

j45ashton
j45ashton

@paulejb @j45ashton You might as well ask me if I care about the browbeating, cajoling & threatening Lyndon Johnson did to get the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed.  Or you could ask me if care about the lies that GW Bush, D Cheney, Geo Tenet & Colin Powell told to get us into the Iraq War.  Just wondering...do you care about any of these things?  If so, I wonder....which ones & why.

jason024
jason024

@paulejb @j45ashton Actually what was the most concerning was the lack of GOP input. Not because the Democrats refused it but b/c the GOP decided it was better off opposing Obama...look where it got them.....threatening to shut down the government and losing the 2012 election. 

Diecash1
Diecash1

Not only history, but also facts, logic, and reason.

paulejb
paulejb

@PaulDirks @paulejb 

No liberal ever died when government shutdown in the past. They just thought that they would die.

littlelizard
littlelizard

@paulejb @jason024 @j45ashton The GOP had a great deal of input in writing the law. It was a bi partisan commitee. The GOP introduced over 160 amendments to the law, including the one about individual mandates. The perception that the GOP was locked out of drafting the law is an outright lie. The perception that the GOP had no input, when the majority of the amendments they wanted added were accepted is an outright lie.

paulejb
paulejb

@anon76 @paulejb 

Then he went with bribery instead. The Louisiana Purchase and the Nebraska Cornhusker Hustle.

anon76
anon76

@paulejb

paule thinks that if he sticks his fingers in his ears and repeats his lies often enough, nobody will remember that the healthcare bill was held up for months as Baucus tried to get the GOP to participate.

jason024
jason024

@paulejb @jason024 @j45ashton You keep telling yourself that....it was the GOP's decision not to partake in the process. 


Heck the "far left" wanted a single payer system but came to the table with what was a Heritage Foundation Plan. Don't blame everyone else for your party's stupid decisions.

PaulDirks
PaulDirks

@paulejb @PaulDirks Liberals benefited greatly when the Republicans shut down government. Once again, your ignorance of history is duly noted. The fact that your ignorance will continue unabated no matter what anyone says, is why this will be my last post on the subject.