Republicans Retreat From a Shutdown

John Boehner

He and others in his party are pushing back hard against the idea — promulgated by Senators Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, as well as others in the Tea Party camp — that Republicans should not agree to any legislation that keeps the government going after Sept. 30 if it also pays for the new health care system. So far, only 13 reckless senators have signed on to this movement; most of the others recognize that the attempt would not only be futile but also ruinous to what little remains of their party’s reputation for governing. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman from Illinois, said that once voters realized the damage that could be caused by a shutdown, they might push his party out of control of the House. “Potentially there will be a collapse of will to keep the government shut down because soldiers are not getting paid, and all this other stuff’s happening, and we turn around and lose 10-20 seats in 2014,” he said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that Republicans are out of foolish ideas. Virtually every one of the party’s elected officials takes it as an article of faith that health care reform must be stopped, and many are still looking for other ways besides a shutdown to make sure the uninsured remain that way. As National Review recently reported, several lawmakers who consider a government shutdown a political liability — including the leadership of the House — are still willing to threaten a government default later this year if health care reform isn’t stopped or delayed.

In other words, they would refuse to raise the debt ceiling if their demands aren’t met, just as they did during a similar debacle in 2011 that damaged the nation’s credit rating and led to the sequester. That would be far worse than a brief shutdown, inflicting much greater damage on credit markets and the overall economy. But the prospect doesn’t seem to bother Republican leaders — like Speaker John Boehner who are still raising expectations in the party’s base that the debt ceiling remains a useful tool for extracting significant concessions from Democrats. If the leadership can send out signals that a shutdown is unacceptable, it is irresponsible for them not to do the same on a government default.

It is not clear, however, that Mr. Boehner has enough control over his rowdy caucus to prevent either kind of disaster. Even if health care is removed from the table, House Republicans are still demanding spending cuts in the upcoming fiscal year that are significantly below the levels of the sequester, which has already inflicted severe pain. They have refused to sit at a conference table with Senate Democrats. When Congress returns from recess in September, moderate Republicans who care about their party’s reputation may be waging a losing battle.

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