Yeah, that’s something I never thought I’d say. But John Boehner’s job as Speaker of the House has been made absolutely impossible by the 80-100 far-right ideologues that were elected in his party in 2010 by the Tea Party movement, legislators who are completely fanatical and utterly oblivious to political reality. They are demanding a government shutdown if Obama does not agree to defund the Affordable Care Act, which simply is not going to happen. Ezra Klein explains what happened last week:
1) House Republicans pulled their bill to fund the government. The House was expected to vote Wednesday on a bill to continue funding the federal government. The initial whip count showed the bill 18 votes short of passage, so the vote didn’t happen. Why is the bill 18 votes short of passage? Obamacare, of course.
2) The GOP’s small Obamacare problem. The vote was delayed because the House GOP can’t decide on what to do about Obamacare. Hardcore conservatives want to refuse to fund the government as long as any of that funding goes to Obamacare — which is to say, they want to shut down the government over Obamacare. This is a fight that House leadership believes they will lose, and lose very badly.
So Team Boehner tried to finesse it. The funding bill required a vote on defunding Obamacare. But House conservatives quickly realized that they would lose the vote in the Senate and the result would be the federal government would get funded, and Obamacare would be funded along with it. So they turned on the bill, and, fearing for its passage, House leadership delayed the vote.
Boehner has very little control over about 40% of his own caucus and those legislators have no grasp whatsoever of reality. They will be more than happy to continue tilting at the Obamacare windmill, watch the government shut down and take the full brunt of public anger when that happens. And those people are so safely ensconced in the Fox News/talk radio bubble that they may genuinely think that the public wants them to do it. But Klein says this may actually be the best thing that could happen:
A government shutdown wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It’s breaching the debt ceiling that would be a disaster. There are two fiscal crack-ups on offer this fall. One is a government shutdown. That’s bad, but it’s not a catastrophe. The other is breaching the debt ceiling. That’s a complete and utter catastrophe.
The timeline here is cold and unforgiving: Absent action, the government shutdown will happen at the end of this month. The debt ceiling could collapse as soon as Oct. 18.
If the GOP needs to lose a giant showdown in order to empower more realistic voices and move forward, it’s better that showdown happens over a government shutdown then a debt-ceiling breach. A government shutdown is highly visible and dramatic, but it won’t actually destroy the economy. So an “optimistic” case might be that there’s a shutdown for the first few days of October, the GOP gets creamed in public opinion, the hostage-taking strategies of the party’s right flank are discredited, and Washington is at a much better equilibrium by the time the debt ceiling needs to be raised.
And yes, I realize that naming that tornado of lunacy the “optimistic” outcome is enough to make anyone pessimistic about the state of American politics. Good. You should be pessimistic about the state of American politics.
I’m cynical enough, however, to think that the extremists in the House Republican caucus are disconnected from reality enough that even if this political ass-kicking happens just the way Klein thinks it would (and I agree with him on how it would play out), it will do little to change their minds about it all. They live on Planet Wingnuttia, not on earth with the rest of us.