Conservatives Yearn for the Art of the Impossible

Or: Why Obamacare Isn’t Tomacco

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Otto Von Bismarck is credited with saying that "politics is the art of the possible." Now some on the right are trying to recast that notion in a fairly novel way. It seems that for the fanatical conservative base, politics is the art of the impossible.

Matt Fuller this morning wrote a must-read Roll Call piece (that Democrats are gleefully emailing around) on the big push by Heritage Action – the lobbying arm of the right-wing Heritage Foundation – to convince Republican lawmakers to shut the government down if President Obama won't agree to defund Obamacare. That particular law, you might recall, is the president's signature domestic accomplishment, so it's not unreasonable to wonder how realistic it is that he's going to agree to gut it.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Republican Party.]

Don't take my word for it. Here's Allahpundit from the very conservative Hot Air blog deconstructing the defund-or-shut-down plan:

Step one: Pass an amendment withholding funding for O-Care in the continuing resolution. Step two: ???? Step three: Obama caves and agrees to defund. What's step two here?


[U]nder what scenario does Obama cave and decide to agree to defunding (or some lesser compromise anti-ObamaCare measure)? This is his baby. ... Even if the public blamed him for a shutdown rather than the GOP, how likely is it that he'll break and risk destroying his legacy by signing a bill that defunds the program before the exchanges go into effect? I'd say it's absolute zero…

I'd say "absolute zero" is generous. But as one of the prime movers on the defund-or-shut-down movement, Heritage Action presumably has an answer for Allahpundit's "step two," right?

Not so much. This from Roll Call:

In private meetings with Heritage Action representatives … lawmakers say they have asked Heritage Action what its strategy would be if the government shut down.

And Heritage Action, they say, does not have an answer.

"There is no plan B, there is no ‘what if,'" said one Republican lawmaker who spoke to CQ Roll Call on the condition of anonymity. He said he had talked to a "handful" of members who met with Heritage Action and the outside conservative group had "no viable alternative" to the president caving in.

The article goes on to quote Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler as dismissing lawmaker concerns about the possibility of getting the law passed because "you don't know what the playing field is going to look like" and "We have no idea what's possible."

[See a collection of political cartoons on Obamacare.]

Here's what the playing field looks like: Democrats control the Senate and even most Senate Republicans (including rock-ribbed conservatives like Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and John Hoeven of North Dakota) are on record as saying that shutting down the government over defunding Obamacare is, as North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr has said, the "dumbest idea" he's ever heard. And even if the House and Senate both passed defunding bills, you'd have to be pretty imaginative, gullible or both to conjure up a scenario that involves Obama signing such a bill or Congress overriding his unavoidable veto.

The Heritage Action position, in other words, is the political equivalent of going to the roof and arguing in favor of jumping off and flapping your arms really hard to fly. You don't know what the wind conditions are going to be like. We have no idea what's possible. Sure, we can make a pretty good educated guess, but really we can't know until we've tried it. (We, here, being a term of art – Heritage Action won't have to face angry voters next year; and as one wag snarked to Roll Call, the defund push "probably fits nicely with their fundraising metrics." Nothing succeeds like excess after all.)

It boils down to this: The defund-or-shut-down case requires a Hollywood style deus ex machina. It requires the public to go from simply disapproving of the law to marching on Washington with torches and pitchforks in a populist rage … that somehow failed to manifest itself last November when voters made Obama the first president since Dwight Eisenhower to crack 51 percent two elections in a row.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

Which brings us to the other logical contradiction to the defund-or-shut-down position: What's the rush? If the American people are on the brink of an off-off-year political uprising the likes of which would compel congressional Democrats and the president to abandon Obamacare, why the fierce urgency of right this minute?

The answer is that the whole thing comes to a head at the end of September because government funding runs out then (Congress is expected to have to pass a temporary "continuing resolution" while it keeps squabbling about spending levels) and the state health insurance exchanges and subsidies kick in starting in October. If the law were to be the revolt-inducing disaster conservatives predict, time should be on their side. But it's not.

Allahpundit again:

Obama's secret weapon here is dependency and the sooner dependency begins, the more difficult it is to cancel the program. This is why Team O is dead set, come hell or high water, on getting the exchanges up and running. They'll delay the employer mandate, they'll suspend the anti-fraud provisions — they'll fiddle with the law however they need to in order to make it more salable in the near term so long as the exchanges start on time. Hence Cruz's desperation in dramatic action soon.

Fine. You can argue that the law will be too popular to repeal or you can argue that it'll be an unpopular train wreck – but you can't have it both ways. This isn't tomacco. ("It tastes like Grandma … I want more.")

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