Boehner, Napoleon And Einstein

Your underworked and over-egoed Congress, fresh off a five-week paid vacation, was planning to take off next week for some more R&R even though it’s the final week of the fiscal year and legislation to keep the government running hasn’t been passed.  But after much agonizing and well-deserved ridicule the House GOP leadership cut that back to “only” a four-day weekend; they’ll return on Wednesday to try to figure out a way to keep the government running after October 1.  And — gasp — they might even work over the weekend if the really, really have to, said Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).  Oh the sacrifices they make for us.

On Friday Cantor will bring up a stop-gap funding bill that he knows has no chance of getting through the Senate much less a presidential signature.  That’s because it will contain the House Republicans’ 41st futile attempt to scuttle the Affordable Care Act.

This time they’re issuing an ultimatum:  shut down Obamacare or we’ll shut down the government.

Speaker John Boehner has made it clear he really doesn’t want to shut down the government, but he’s in charge only by title.  The real power is in the hands of a small but  increasingly influential and intimidating group of tea party supporters, libertarians and arch-conservatives.

Many of them are ideologically driven and believe they were sent to Washington to bring revolutionary change at any cost and not to find compromises.  That’s why so many are willing to shut down the government if that’s what it takes to impose their will and bring the size and cost of government under control. Theirs.

That would probably play well in some of their local districts and particularly among tea party supporters and wealthy contributors like the Koch brothers and the Club for Growth.

But probably not in the rest of the country.  Boehner was part of the House Republican leadership in the mid-1990s  when then-Speaker Newt Gingrich tried it a couple of times, and he remembers what a drubbing Republicans took in the next election and what happened to Gingrich’s career.

Boehner wants to offer a temporary spending bill – called a continuing resolution or CR – that will fund the government until mid-December and contain a disposable Obamacare provision that can be peeled off in the Senate before going to the President.  The extremists are calling that transparent and meaningless and say they’re to go to the barricades.

One of those urging them on is former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), now head of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, who keeps telling audiences that this time Barack Obama might blink and agree to defund his the signature piece of legislation of his presidency.

It didn’t work the first 40 times they tried it.  Someone should tell them Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Chances are 50/50 Republicans will force a shutdown.  It will be bad for the economy and bad for Congress’s already low stature, but not necessarily for Democrats.

For the most part, they’re following Napoleon’s advice: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.” They expect a shutdown to create a backlash against Republicans and hoping it will be easier for them to retake control of the House and hold on to the Senate in the 2014 elections. Meanwhile they’re using the threat to raise money from the faithful, appealing for contributions to “our Obamacare Rapid Response Fund.”

Some Democrats in very conservative districts may vote to defund. Republicans intend to use it as a campaign issue next year, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) warned, because he thinks “it’ll be political suicide for the Democrats in red states” who don’t vote against Obamacare.

Boehner could pass a CR that would avoid a shutdown but it will require standing up to the far right in his caucus and not invoking the “Hastert rule” which bars bringing up legislation which isn’t backed by a majority of the House GOP caucus.  That could be a pyrrhic victory for him because it could provoke a movement to dump him. 

Some in the Republican caucus have been quietly talking about putting one of their own in the Speaker’s chair, which may explain several recent reports that Boehner is thinking about taking early retirement.  He’ll be 65 next year and could qualify for Medicare, if Republicans don’t defund it by then. Besides, he’s already voted to give himself a very generous pension plan and health care coverage at taxpayer expense.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.