Memo to House Republicans eyeing a deficit-and-debt exit from the current government shutdown: The radical right isn't going to give up its bone so easily.
The government shut down, remember, because House Republicans – spurred on by outside agitators like Heritage Action and RedState's Erick Erickson – refused to fund the government unless President Obama and the Senate agreed to defund Obamacare. It wasn't a fight the GOP leadership wanted. They preferred – and still prefer – to use the frame of a debt ceiling fight to push their spending cut agenda, which is why in the days since the government shuttered, we've heard less and less about Obamacare and more and more about the deficit and the debt.
One problem for the GOP leadership: The outside agitators – the people who made the ultimate call to fight over an Obamacare shutdown, remember – aren't interested in a pivot. So, for example, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham told reporters Tuesday morning that grassroots conservatives will accept neither a pivot away from the issue in an effort to resolve the deadlock nor a short-term reopening of the government that doesn't defund the law.
Needham's group has been one of the key outside forces rallying conservative lawmakers to make the defund-or-shut-down push that has us over a week into a government shutdown. And while there have been signals that House leaders want to pivot from Obamacare to a renewed discussion of spending cuts – the clearest being House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's Wall Street Journal op-ed today, which has raised eyebrows for proposing a way out of the shutdown without mentioning Obamacare at all – Needham made clear the right won't accept that. "This is a fight about Obamacare and the attention of Republicans and conservatives needs to be back on Obamacare and not on other ways out of this situation," he said.
RedState's Erickson issued a similar edict, putting up a post overnight with the imperious headline: "This is the Strategy. No Do It." He wrote: "Conservatives need to push the debt ceiling fight off the front burner to after Christmas. ... They do not want a stand alone fight on Obamacare. They want to conflate it with the debt ceiling so they can do a grand bargain and leave Obamacare alone." Why are Republican leaders so enamored of Obamacare? He doesn't say. But he's clearly agitated about it. In any case, as Talking Points Memo notes, the conservative pushback on Ryan keeps going.
During his press conference yesterday, President Obama signaled an openness to signing a clean short-term continuing resolution to open the government long enough to have negotiations with House Republicans on the budget. That too would be a nonstarter for conservatives, Needham said. "We are involved right now in the CR fight which is fundamentally about Obamacare … any CR that does not address Obamacare is something that we would be very strongly against," he said. "Any CR of any length that doesn't address Obamacare is something that we would not support."
Asked what the path to victory for conservatives is, Needham argued that "over the course of the next week President Obama will feel [political] pain" and that Democrats will break ranks on the piece-meal funding bills the House has passed. "Inevitably, at some point, I think the pressure on the Senate to fund veterans will cause them to do it," he said. Once that happens, "if we want to sit in a government shutdown for the next several weeks over the NLRB and the EPA being shut down, I'm perfectly happy to sit in that situation until President Obama stops this unaffordable and unfair law."
That sums up why Democrats can't (and, hopefully, won't) agree to the piecemeal approach – it would become a backdoor defund mechanism where the House would fund the parts of the government it likes and leave the rest to wallow.
As my colleague Lauren Fox notes, polls show that Republicans are taking a greater political hit thus far than are Democrats. But Needham was unmoved, arguing that if Republicans take a strong stand on Obamacare, voters will reward them. The preponderance of polls say otherwise, but I suppose we'll find out next year and in 2016.