Shutdown or Nothing?

The GOP's only strategy can't be "defund or shut down."

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There are some on the right who earnestly believe it would be a good thing to stand on principle and shut the government down over whether or not to fund the continued expansion of Obamacare.

Government shut downs are, in an of themselves, not necessarily a bad thing. It did not hurt Tip O'Neill and congressional Democrats when they shut down the federal government in their budget battles with Ronald Reagan. The Clinton-Gingrich shutdown led to a federal budget surplus, welfare reform and the first re-elected Republican Congress in nearly 70 years. In both those cases, however, the congressional party was operating from a position of strength. O'Neill had the national media to cover for him and Gingrich had the votes. In fact, it was only when the polling data showed that voters were beginning to blame Bill Clinton for the shutdown in 1995 instead of the Republicans that the White House came back to the negotiating table.

What makes the current situation different is that the GOP is operating from a position of weakness. The press is largely chomping at the bit to blame Republicans for a shutdown over Obamacare – following a script the White House has been dictating for the past two weeks. They don't have the votes in the Senate to win the defunding fight, which is something even its strongest advocates – Utah's Mike Lee and Ted Cruz of Texas – admit. So the pressure from outside supporters of "defunding or nothing" is all being put on Speaker John Boehner and the GOP-controlled House of Representatives who, for the moment, seem disinclined to go along with the strategy being pushed on them.

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on the IRS Scandal.]

It's a good idea to vote on defunding Obamacare. It's a bad idea to let that be the hill on which to die, with nothing held in reserve. There are other ways to undo what will become the biggest federal entitlement program since Lyndon Johnson was president without having to risk everything on one role of the dice at a rigged table.

Boehner, who is going to log about 10,000 miles during the August recess campaigning and fundraising for GOP House candidates, has a long-term strategy for undoing Obamacare and replacing it with something that not only makes sense but, unlike the president's plan, will work. It all hinges on a series of well-placed, well-timed strikes against the law that builds on the successful votes already cast that will dismantle it piece by piece.

The tide is continuing to turn against Obamacare. The unions that once put all their legislative might into getting it through Congress are now turning against it. The president has been forced to move back the effective date for the employer mandate because it is taking longer to bring on line than the law allowed. Legislation in the House to ratify the president's decision, which also would have delayed the imposition of the employee coverage mandate and which Obama threatened to veto, passed with a generously bi-partisan margin.

There are plenty of other targets of opportunity for House members and Senators who want to undo Obamacare. One of them, Georgia Rep. Tom Price's bill – H.R. 2009 - to cut off funding to the scandal-ridden U.S. Internal Revenue Service for any expansion of the agency required by Obamacare is the first new step and it easily passed the House Friday by a vote of 232 to 185, with four Democrats joining a unanimous Republican conference in voting "Aye."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Even the folks at the IRS know how bad Obamacare is. Earlier this week, Danny Werfel, the acting head of the IRS, told a congressional committee, "We have right now as employees of the government, of the IRS, affordable health care coverage. I think the (Affordable Care Act) was designed to provide an option or an alternative for individuals that do not. And all else being equal, I think if you're an individual who is satisfied with your health care coverage, you're probably in a better position to stick with that coverage than go through the change of moving into a different environment and going through that process."

"I think for a federal employee," Werfel continued, "and I would -- can speak for myself, I would prefer to stay with the current policy that I'm pleased with rather than go through a change if I don't need to go through that change."

No one – not Boehner and not the Republicans in the Senate - is ruling out "defunding" as a strategy. They are even willing to place such a measure on a "must pass" piece of legislation like the bill to raise the debt ceiling or a continuing resolution to keep the government running. What is being hotly debated is whether that should be the only strategy

Going into battle, especially when you are outnumbered, with only one arrow in your quiver does not seem like a good idea. Whether or not it is will be the subject of debate at the next meeting of the Sons and Daughters of the Survivors of the Alamo. What the proponents of the "defund only" approach seem to miss is that Obamacare is already undoing itself.

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