Given that not a single Democratic voice has surfaced in favor of bending on the House GOP’s demand of a moratorium on the health care law, and since it is unlikely that the House would accept the one remotely plausible counter-offer of a one year delay of the individual mandate, the government shutdown is about to commence.
Whether that eventuality proves to be a blunder that thwarts the recovery and casts Republicans as intransigent extremists is a gamble I would rather Republicans not run. I’m in the camp that fears that shutdown politics will be costly for the party, from Virginia’s November races to the Senate fight in 2014. But even when the crisis eventually resolves, likely through some Senate procedural device that bypasses or outwits the House, the more meaningful dilemma is that the right’s path to brinksmanship has not really been countered by any articulate, influential conservative voice.
The case against the Ted Cruz putsch has been advanced in Republican circles, to be sure, but largely in the context of either the Wall Street fallout or disdain for Cruz’s leveraging of the defund Obamacare strategy to elevate his presidential ambitions. Missing is an alternative, conservative anchored vision of what the political right might more constructively be doing to advance its agenda.
What would such a message sound like? It might, for example, point out that Republicans are sacrificing one of the most principled critiques of the Democratic maneuvers on Obamacare: that the process of passing the law circumvented congressional rules and fed the public’s cynicism about congressional responsiveness to public sentiment. The defund movement’s tactics—risking a government stoppage that every poll suggests is deeply unpopular and seeking to effect a dramatic policy shift without anything resembling the normal process for repealing legislation—resembles too closely the Democrats’ insistence on driving through a healthcare overhaul in the face of broad opposition, through a parliamentary slight-of hand that effectively imposed one congressional chamber’s prerogatives on the other.
A conservative challenge to Cruz might also highlight that the defunding strategy looks almost nothing like the single most successful policy thrust from the right in the last 30 years: the Reagan era effort to realign tax policy. The Reagan tax cuts (and the Kemp-Roth legislation that paralleled them) were advanced through two separate election cycles and were a pillar of conservative campaigns and rhetoric for three years. In contrast, Republicans have expended virtually no energy on a policy alternative to Obamacare and the formula of defunding the entire government machinery to extract concessions on healthcare is a recent conception that not one 2012 or 2010 candidate campaigned on.
Also sorely absent is a conservative critique that whatever the substantive goals of Republican health care policy, those aspirations are being submerged in a defund campaign that counters the Affordable Care Act with literally nothing, and as a result, invites the assumption that Republicans are fixated on returning the state of American healthcare to what it was pre-Obamacare. And the effect of that fixation may well be to confirm to less ideologically charged voters that conservatism does not prioritize the removal of barriers to healthcare; or indeed, that today’s right does not even view the various disparities and burdens within the status quo as a legitimate subject of federal intervention.
Without doubt, there is a school of conservatism that is unapologetic about rejecting any version of healthcare reform. It is a sizable, and vocal, segment of any Republican primary electorate and dominates the financial and intellectual infrastructure that undergirds the national conservative movement. But there is negligible evidence that any part of the persuadable independent or conservative Democratic universe shares the same visceral antigovernment zeal. And to leave the contemporary domestic debate to the wing in the Republican Party that is least capable of broadening the party’s appeal is a singularly reckless political gambit.