So what happens after ‘Defund Theater’ is over?

Written by . Posted in 2014 Campaigns, 2016 Campaigns, Polling

Published on September 18, 2013

john_boehnerHouse Republican leadership has long expressed frustration over the “defund” movement — namely, the push by several conservative groups and a handful of lawmakers for a government shutdown-showdown over whether the Obamacare law is allowed to go into effect.

That movement is now taking heart from a juiced Rasmussen poll question that puts the showdown in terms of merely cutting funding for Obamacare to a lower level. In fact, the shutdown strategy polls disastrously when presented accurately — our poll of Virginia just found majority opposition and only 30 percent support.

I described the major problems with this strategy here – click over for a moment (a new tab will open) if you want to see why I don’t take it seriously. It’s not that Republicans should meekly accept Obamacare, but a lot of conservatives are not exercising the patience that’s going to be required to repeal it. They’re going all-in with a bad hand instead of waiting for a good one. They risk losing popular support for the issue, and if they do, they’ll be left wondering what happened.

The pressure has finally gotten to the House Leadership. They consider this whole thing to be an annoyance, but they don’t see themselves as having much of a choice. They will put to the floor a continuing resolution to fund the government past September 30 (known on the Hill as a “CR”), and it will contain an Obamacare defunding provision. This will go to the Senate, where those most vocal in their support of this strategy (i.e. Sens. Lee and Cruz, but also Rubio) will be forced to shepherd it through.

The problem is, they can’t, so this won’t go anywhere, and we’ll be right back to where we are now — trying to avoid a shutdown. This is just a bit of theater ahead of the real CR debate, which will occur after that’s over, and on a dramatically shorter timeline up against a government-shutdown deadline. Republicans may be forced to accept something sub-optimal — hopefully, they can at least keep the sequestration levels of spending intact. (It’s also possible that this mini-drama will help Boehner, since his strongest negotiating tactic against the Democrats has been to shrug and explain that he has to sell whatever deal he walks away with to the Tea Partiers, so make it good.)

The broader outcome of all this is very predictable, though. At best, the coming wipe-out of the defund strategy will merely demoralize the base, whose expectations have been unjustifiably raised. Conservatives will be even more upset at conservative lawmakers for failing to make the impossible happen. There will be more finger-pointing.

But that’s “at best.” If we do enter a months-long government shutdown in an effort to defund Obamacare, it will cost conservatives the advantage they currently enjoy on this issue. And if that happens, Obamacare will certainly be here to stay, or even be replaced by something worse, when the GOP fails to win a Senate majority in 2014 and is then wiped off the map in the much tougher-looking election year of 2016.