Remember in 2009, when Jim DeMint said health care reform would be President Obama’s Waterloo? Four years later, defunding health care reform became the GOP’s Alamo. But Republicans aren’t done damaging their party, or the rest of the country, yet. Not by a long shot.
It started with a bang, and ended with a whimper. The Republican caucus handed House Speaker John Boehner one more humiliating defeat as the House voted 285 to 144 to approve the deal hammered out by the Senate. Boehner was force to rely on Democrats for the bulk of the votes needed to pass the deal, with 87 Republicans breaking with the rest of the GOP caucus to support the deal. (So much for the “Hastert Rule.”)
After 16 days of threatening to push both the national and global economies over the fiscal cliff, and costing the economy about $700 billion in lost economic activity and about 2 million lost jobs since 2010, the tea party caucus walked away with almost nothing. House Republicans didn’t even use all of the debate time allotted to them. The deal included a provision to verify the incomes of those receiving subsidized health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. That’s hardly a concession, since similar language was built into the legislation.
Heritage Action President Michael Neeham added insult to injury by finally admitting that right-wingers shut down the government for no reason. Neeham told Fox News on Wednesday morning, “Well, everybody knows that we’re not going to be able to repeal this law until 2017, and that we have to win the Senate and win the White House.” Heritage Action had been pushing for a shutdown since the summer, and played a key role in the conservative revolt that shot down Boehner’s attempt to avert default and end the shutdown two weeks ago.
Now Needham says it was all — the economic costs and the human costs — for nothing? One can hardly blame the House stenographer for being driven to distraction by time the whole sorry spectacle ended on the House floor.
Regrets? They Have A Few.
Two weeks ago, tea party caucus leader Michele Bachmann told The Washington Post that Republicans were “very happy” about the shutdown. “It’s exactly what we wanted,” Bachmann said, “and we got it.” Now that the shutdown is over, thousands of government workers are going back to work, national parks are reopening, children are going back to Head Start, families struggling with hunger will continue getting food assistance, and desperately ill patients can continue clinical trials, Bachmann is less than thrilled. Interview with Fox News, Bachmann called the reopening of government “a very sad day,” because the president “got 100 percent of what he wanted.”
Sadness, however, isn’t the overriding emotion. Plenty of tea partiers are plenty angry, too.
- Rush Limbaugh blasted Republicans as “irrelevant and irresponsible” for “creating one of the greatest political disasters” he’s ever seen by not pushing the country into default, and failing to offer “serious opposition” to President Obama because he’s black.
- FreedomWorks announced, “The line separating Democrats and the Republican establishment is fading — it might have disappeared today.”
- RedState.org’s Erick Erickson issued a declaration of civil war, and called for a purge of non-Tea-Party types because, “House Republicans have signaled they are giving up.”
- Sarah Palin is already hinting at tea party primary challenges for Republicans who supported the deal that opened government and averted default.
- Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups are plotting to get involved in primary campaigns against a few tea partiers.
No Lessons Learned
But if you’re planning to just sit back and enjoy the GOP’s circular firing squad, don’t get too comfortable. There are signs that Republicans haven’t learned anything from the shutdown debacle and plan on doing further damage to the economy.
- Tea partiers are already calling for the Health and Human Services secretary to resign.
- Cue the conspiracy theories, and ready the “Shutdown Truthers.” World Net Daily’s Garth Kant says, “The shutdown was deliberately orchestrated by the White House.” The conspiracy was cooked up by presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, to help Democrats win the House in 2014. (That’s the same shutdown conservatives planned months ago, by the way.)
- Boosting President Obama’s popularity, while nuking the GOP’s own approval rating hasn’t’ taught National Review Online’s Kevin Williamson anything. He writes, “…conservatives are not going to be satisfied by the outcome of the 2014 election or the 2016 election. The real changes they seek can come about only through — at best — a decades-long project of steady incremental reform.”
- Right-wingers still have food stamps in their sites. The Cato Institute’s Michael Tanner is touting his report calling food stamps “the most inefficient and vastly expanding social welfare program” in the country, and praising the GOP’s proposal to hack $40 billion as “fairly modest reforms.”
- Rep. John C. Fleming (R-La.) offered an ominous outlook ahead of the vote to end the shutdown and avert default. “I’ll vote against it,” Fleming told The New York Times, “But that will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again.”
Make no mistake about it, round 2 is coming.
President Obama was right when he said that the mess “in this town has to change.” But that’s highly unlikely, with the extreme right still firmly in control of the GOP, and fights over sequestration on the horizon and the possibility that Republicans might yet use what leverage they have left to get cuts to Social Security and Medicare.
This is not the end of the drama, but merely the intermission. It’s not all over. It’s just all over until next time.