Something astonishing has transpired during the first week of the Democrat Shutdown. A number of Republicans and Washington, D.C. pundits are beginning to realize that this is not a slam-dunk battle for President Obama and the Democrats. As the administration continues to embarrass itself by insidiously shutting down venues that need not be shutdown, and as Democrats become flummoxed in the face of surprising GOP message discipline and willingness to fight, we actually have a chance to win this one. The key concern for this week will be maintaining the focus of this fight on Obamacare and not allowing the debt ceiling to distract our attention to other fiscal concerns.
Even those Republicans and commentators who originally opposed our fight against Obamacare have come to realize that their dire predictions of doom did not materialize. Ultimately, only 17 percent of the government is shutdown, and few people outside of the D.C. metropolitan area even feel the effects. To that end, Obama made a grave mistake by attempting to make the public feel the pain when he ordered a number of outdoor monuments, parks, and memorials shut down. This has created a tremendous opening for Republicans to not only fight Obamacare but to show the American people that the shutdown is the fault of the Democrats who are looking to score political points.
Moreover, House Republicans have wisely adopted the conservative strategy of passing small funding bills for vital, popular, and sentimental functions. The voted to fund the National Institutes for Health, D.C. government, national parks, military chaplains, veteran’s affairs, WIC, and FEMA. Most of these bills passed the House with bipartisan support. They also voted to retroactively reimburse all of the federal employees who are furloughed. That bill passed unanimously.
If Republicans continue to play their cards right, they can apply some serious pressure to Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV), and force him to take most of the pain out of the shutdown, thereby enabling the fight to focus on just the parts of government that fund Obamacare – without the cloud of collateral damage over their heads.
Headed into the new week, the House will continue with this strategy and vote on bills to fund border security, the Federal Drug Administration, National Weather Service, Head Start, and many more non-Obamacare related services.
The biggest concern moving forward is the complication created by the debt ceiling deadline on Oct. 17. Normally, conservatives would welcome the prospect of using two points of leverage to force transformational change. However, the fact that the battle of government funding and whether to raise the debt ceiling are beginning to merge is creating some complications for conservatives:
Double Trouble: While conservatives are doing a good job at messaging the fight over Obamacare with the Continuing Resolution, the debt ceiling might muddle the message. At present, our position is that we will fund every function of government in the budget bill except for Obamacare. The debt ceiling brings a whole new set of issues to the table, making it harder for Republicans to stay focused.
Grand Bargain: Reps. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Dave Camp (R-MI) have been waiting for the debt ceiling fight to change the topic to issues like entitlement reform and tax reform. There is a concern that the Continuing Resolution fight will be rolled into the debt ceiling and create the illusion of a grand bargain over tax and entitlement reform. This will completely distract from Obamacare and focus the attention of conservatives on other shiny objects – policy initiatives that we will never achieve as long as Obama is president.
There is no way we will ever pass conservative entitlement or tax reform with the current crop of leaders. Ultimately, they might cut a deal to “fast track” and idea for reform, along with some ancillary tweaks to Obamacare, such as the medical device tax repeal or the elimination of the congressional exemption. The end result will be the waste of two leverage points without any defunding or delaying of Obamacare.
The biggest challenge for conservatives this week is to remain focused solely on messaging the Obamacare fight. Concurrently, they should push back against the notion that the debt ceiling needs to be raised immediately for fear of default. Thanks to the short-term revenue benefits of the fiscal cliff and Obamacare tax hikes, the federal government is expected to rake in a record $3.042 trillion from the private economy this year. Interest on the debt is $237 billion – just 8 percent of the total revenue. As long as that interest is paid, there will be no default.
It looks like Harry Reid is going to strike first blood on the debt ceiling. He is scheduling a cloture vote on a clean debt ceiling increase for Wednesday or Thursday. Republicans must use this to highlight how red state Democrats have no interest in dealing with the endless debt, and are happy to expand government to whatever size Harry Reid and Barack Obama request of them.
Feature Photo Credit: © Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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