Last night, on CNN’s The Lead, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy told Jake Tapper that Republicans “never wanted to shut the government down.”
Most observers would disagree. For almost everyone paying attention, it’s clear that the government shut down because Republicans wanted to shut it down. During the summer congressional recess, Tea Party conservatives—led by organizations like Heritage Action—called for the House of Representatives to defund the Affordable Care Act, and lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Tom Graves of Georgia joined the crusade, demanding that Speaker John Boehner give up gimmicks—like shunting the defund vote to a separate amendment—and tie government funding to a repeal of Obamacare.
“House Republicans should pass a continuing resolution that funds government in its entirety–except Obamacare–and that explicitly prohibits spending any federal money, mandatory or discretionary, on Obamacare,“ Cruz said in a statement at the beginning of the month, “They should not use any procedural chicanery to enable Harry Reid to circumvent that vote.”
Then, in the heady days of early September, conservative Republicans believed that the public was on their side—that voters would applaud them for using their legislative leverage to block the Affordable Care Act from implementation.
But, as we’ve seen, this was a huge miscalculation. Americans are ambivalent about the president’s health-care law, yes, but they don’t want it repealed, and they overwhelmingly oppose the GOP’s decision to shut down the government over its funding. According to the latest Quinnipiac national survey, 72 percent of Americans say they oppose shutting down the federal government to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and 58 percent oppose the effort to cut funding for the law, even as a plurality—47 percent—continue to say they’re opposed to the health-care overhaul. As for the GOP’s public approval? Disdain for the Republican Party—74 percent disapprove of the job they’re doing—is one of the few things the public can agree on.
Republicans made a tactical mistake. But rather than own up to it, they’ve adopted a new strategy: blaming the shutdown on Democrats for not acquiescing to their demands, and sacrificing their key accomplishment for the “concession” of letting the government operate.
“Harry Reid wants a shutdown because he believes it’s a political victory for the Democrats,” said Tea Party Express chair Amy Kremer on CNN yesterday, echoing Cruz, who believes that “Harry Reid affirmatively wants a government shutdown.” Likewise, in an op-ed for USA Today, Boehner declared that Obama owns the shutdown: “The fact is that Washington Democrats have slammed the door on reopening the government by refusing to engage in bipartisan talks.”
And Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan also maintains that Republicans are the reasonable party in this dispute. We don’t want to close the government down,” he explained. “We want it open. But we want fairness ... We want a budget agreement that gets the debt under control.“ The “fairness” Ryan is referring to, it should be said, is allowing Republicans to use the shutdown—and the debt limit—as a negotiating tool to force concessions from Democrats without giving anything in return.
It’s hard not to admire the unity of message. The problem is that it’s just not going to work. Not only have national news outlets been clear in placing the blame for the shutdown on the House GOP, but local papers have done the same. At The Washington Post, Reid Wilson does a round-up of editorials from around the country, from the Kansas City Star—“The government of the people of the United States is partially shut down because a faction of the Republican Party insists on tying further spending to the crippling of President Barack Obama’s health care law”— to the Salt Lake Tribune, “[T]he idea that Obamacare is such a threat that it would be worth a government shutdown … borders on the insane.”
The GOP doesn’t want to give up its demands and end the shutdown? Fine, that’s their prerogative. But why can’t the supposed party of personal responsibility take responsibility for its own actions?