Congressional Republicans Are NOT Retreating. They Are Simply Advancing in Reverse. And Don’t Anyone Dare Claim Otherwise.

Those who carefully peruse this op-ed by Paul Ryan will find upon careful reading–or via the Ctrl-F option–that the word “Obamacare” is not used once by Ryan. In writing on how Republicans and the Obama administration can come to some sort of agreement that will get the government open again, Ryan proposes the following:

Here are just a few ideas to get the conversation started. We could ask the better off to pay higher premiums for Medicare. We could reform Medigap plans to encourage efficiency and reduce costs. And we could ask federal employees to contribute more to their own retirement.

The president has embraced these ideas in budget proposals he has submitted to Congress. And in earlier talks with congressional Republicans, he has discussed combining Medicare’s Part A and Part B, so the program will be less confusing for seniors. These ideas have the support of nonpartisan groups like the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, and they would strengthen these critical programs. And all of them would help pay down the debt.

We should also enact pro-growth reforms that put people back to work—like opening up America’s vast energy reserves to development. There is even some agreement on taxes across the aisle.

Rep. Dave Camp (R., Mich.) and Sen. Max Baucus (D., Mont.) have been working for more than a year now on a bipartisan plan to reform the tax code. They agree on the fundamental principles: Broaden the base, lower the rates and simplify the code. The president himself has argued for just such an approach to corporate taxes. So we should discuss how Congress can take up the Camp–Baucus plan when it’s ready.

Reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code will spur economic growth—another goal that both parties share. The CBO says stable or declining levels of federal debt would help the economy. In addition, “federal interest payments would be smaller, policy makers would have greater leeway . . . to respond to any economic downturns . . . and the risk of a sudden fiscal crisis would be much smaller.”

To be sure, Ryan does make reference to health care policy, but this is how he does it:

This isn’t a grand bargain. For that, we need a complete rethinking of government’s approach to helping the most vulnerable, and a complete rethinking of government’s approach to health care. But right now, we need to find common ground. We need to open the federal government. We need to pay our bills today—and make sure we can pay our bills tomorrow. So let’s negotiate an agreement to make modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code.

One senses a shift in negotiating posture by congressional Republicans via this op-ed, which surely must have had the blessings of the congressional Republican leadership, and which may well have had the blessings of certain elements of the Tea Party for all I know. Ryan believes that we need to reform health care policy post-implementation of Obamacare, but he clearly does not want to make a fight over health care part of any negotiations that will lead to re-opening the government. His demands–and dare I say those of a host of other congressional Republicans who look to Ryan for intellectual leadership?–revolve around pledging to make “modest reforms to entitlement programs and the tax code” as a price for re-opening government. And this shift in negotiating posture appears to be confirmed by this story:

A fight over Obamacare? That’s so last week.

With the government shutdown firmly in its second week, and the debt limit projected to be reached next Thursday, top House and Senate Republicans are publicly moving away from gutting the health care law — a practical move that could help resolve the stalemate and appear more reasonable in the eyes of frustrated voters.

In a private meeting among Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed openness to a plan by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) that includes a repeal of Obamacare’s medical device tax but nothing else related to the health care law.

With polls showing their party is suffering the brunt of the blame for the shutdown, many top Republicans are quietly moving past the Obamacare debate. Many Senate Republicans’ demands do not include changes to Obamacare, but rather cuts to Medicare, Social Security and changes to the Tax Code. House Republicans are also considering a short-term debt hike, but no one expects that it will be accompanied by changes to Obamacare.

“I’d like to get rid of Obamacare, no question about that, but I think that effort has failed,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the veteran member of the Senate Finance Committee. “And we’re going to have to take it on in other ways.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said bluntly: “We took an unpopular law and chose a more unpopular tactic to deal with the law.”

“Why don’t we focus on entitlement reform, Tax Code reform, regarding the debt ceiling and continue to fight on Obamacare [separately], because there’s not a consensus there,” Graham said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) wrote an opinion piece that appeared on The Washington Post’s website Wednesday that simply urged President Barack Obama to negotiate with Republicans.

So, congressional Republicans no longer appear to be fighting to defund Obamacare. And when one considers the state of the polls, one can hardly be surprised by the fact that Republicans have chosen to change their negotiating objectives:

With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September. This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992.

The Democratic Party also has a public image problem — although not on the same elephantine scale as that of the Republican Party — with 43% viewing the Democratic Party favorably, down four percentage points from last month.

These findings come from a Gallup poll conducted Oct. 3-6 that followed the Oct. 1 partial government shutdown after lawmakers in Washington were unable to pass a spending plan for the federal government.

More than six in 10 Americans (62%) now view the GOP unfavorably, a record high. By comparison, nearly half of Americans (49%) view the Democratic Party unfavorably. Roughly one in four Americans see both parties unfavorably.

To be sure, these polling numbers don’t make any particular party look especially good, but Democrats will sleep more easily than Republicans will.

“That’s okay, Pejman,” I hear you retort. “The Republican party is made up of squishes and moderates who are also squishes, who act very moderately. It’s fine and good if the party goes the way of the dinosaur.” To which I retort by giving the microphone to John Podhoretz (who likely will be denounced as a RiNO for writing what he has written):

Every piece of evidence we have so far on the government shutdown shows the public is blaming Republicans most of all for the standoff. On Monday, an ABC poll showed 71 percent fault the GOP; 61 percent fault Congressional Democrats; 51 percent fault President Obama.

Yes, Democrats look bad. Yes, Obama is probably doing himself no favors by saying he won’t negotiate when the public wants politicians in Washington to work together.

But Republicans look considerably worse. And for the Right, the Republican Party is the only game in town.

This is what my fellow conservatives who are acting as the enablers for irresponsible GOP politicians seem not to understand. They like this fight, because they think they’re helping to hold the line on ObamaCare and government spending. They think that they’re supported by a vast silent majority of Americans who dislike what they dislike and want what they want.

I dislike what they dislike. I want what they want. But I fear they are very, very wrong about the existence of this silent majority, and that their misperception is leading them to do significant damage to the already damaged Republican “brand.” (Forgive me for making use of that horribly overused term, but it’s the only one that fits.)

The belief that the public is with them is based on two data points: First, twice as many people say they’re conservative as say they are liberal. And second, ObamaCare is viewed unfavorably by a majority of the American people.

Both are true.

But it has been true for more than 20 years that Americans are twice as likely to call themselves conservative — and in that time Republicans have lost the popular vote in five out of six national elections. The statistic tells us little about how Americans vote or what they vote for.

And it is true that, according to Real Clear Politics, Americans disapprove of ObamaCare, 51 percent to 40 percent. It is unpopular. But it is not wildly, devastatingly unpopular — though given the fact that it is now rolling out and appears to be as incompetently executed as it was badly conceived, it may yet become so.

If ObamaCare had been as unpopular as conservatives believed, their plan for the shutdown — that there would be a public uprising to force Democratic senators in close races in 2014 to defund it — would’ve worked. It didn’t. Not a single senator budged.

Their tactic failed, and now what they are left with is House Speaker John Boehner basically begging the president of the United States to negotiate with him.

I further retort by giving the microphone to Ross Douthat as well:

. . . There was, as I’ve noted before, some kind of plausible populist case for threatening a shutdown around the health care law, as a kind of exercise in noisemaking and base mobilization. But the shutdown itself is just a classic march of folly. From RedState to Heritage to all the various pro-shutdown voices in the House, nobody-but-nobody has sketched out a remotely plausible scenario in which a continued government shutdown leads to any meaningful, worth-the-fighting-for concessions on Obamacare — or to anything, really, save gradually-building pain for the few House Republicans who actually have to fight to win re-election in 2014, and the ratification of the public’s pre-existing sense that the G.O.P. can’t really be trusted with the reins of government.

Sure, the polling could be worse. Sure, assuming cooler heads ultimately prevail, it’s not likely to be an irrecoverable disaster. But something can be less than a disaster and still not make a lick of sense. And that’s what we have here: A case study, for the right’s populists, in how all the good ideas and sound impulses in the world don’t matter if you decide to fight on ground where you simply cannot win.

I presume that despite the shift from demanding the defunding of Obamacare, despite the horrible poll numbers for the Republican party, despite the fact that the weakening of the Republican party means–as Podhoretz points out–the weakening of the conservative movement, and despite the fact that as Douthat writes, the shutdown strategy simply has not been thought through with any degree of care, there will be those who protest that I am in the wrong by declaring, as I have consistently declared, that the shutdown will not advance the goals of the right. Let me anticipate your objections to my post–and to me–with the following bullet points:

  • I am a RiNO.
  • I am a squish.
  • I am a quitter.
  • I am violating Reagan’s Eleventh Commandment by taking issue with the Republican strategy in the shutdown confrontation.
  • Polls don’t matter.
  • Have we mentioned that I am a RiNO and a squish?
  • Winning elections is not important.
  • I am a moderate.
  • “Oh yeah? Well, Mitt Romney, John McCain, and George H.W. Bush lost!”
  • I am an “establishment Republican.”
  • Blog posts like mine are the reason why the shutdown strategy is failing. Democrats get together in their cloakrooms and excitedly whisper amongst themselves “Yousefzadeh is down on the Republicans. You see? That proves that the GOP is divided! We’ve got ’em right where we want ’em!”
  • I am completely mistaken about the current state of play because, shut up.
  • I am secretly a Democrat whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly a communist whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Mephistopheles, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Tokyo Rose, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right.
  • I am secretly Brett Favre, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right
  • I am secretly Aaron Rodgers, whose job it is to destroy morale on the right
  • I am a pessimist who simply shouldn’t be listened to, because, shut up.
  • I am from Chicago. Barack Obama is also from Chicago. Coincidence?

I have done my best to anticipate as many objections as I could. If I have forgotten any, I beg your indulgence and forgiveness. Must be my RiNO/squish/moderate nature to be careless.

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