Last week, I wrote:
The number of Republican members who would like to back down from the current showdown almost certainly exceeds the 22 who have gone on record, and probably exceeds that number by plenty. I suspect that very little in the way of a fig leaf would be required to start a mini-stampede among Republican members in favor of giving up the current fight.
But here’s the thing: the Democrats have no incentive to offer Republican members a fig leaf. The shutdown is producing too much polling and fund-raising joy for Dems.
So this farce will likely drag on until we’re right up against the debt-ceiling. At that point, most likely, Republicans will get their fig leaf on the budget side and Democrats will get something very close to a clean CR.
Or so it seems to me.
It must also have seemed that way to those congressional Republicans who insisted on a shutdown showdown over Obamacare. This, I think, explains the plan to decouple the fight over the CR from the impending fight over raising the debt ceiling by raising the ceiling for six weeks.
Rep. Raul Labrador, a strong Ted Cruz ally who pushed the “decoupling” idea, told NRO’s Jonathan Strong:
I was seeing that the two issues [the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling] were being conflated, that they were all coming together . . . I wanted to make sure that we separated the two issues so we could continue to fight on Obamacare on the CR and continue to fight on entitlement reform on the debt ceiling.
Why did Labrador and others in his faction want to separate the issues? For the reason I described above — to the extent the two issues were combined, it was easier for Republicans to back down on the CR/Obamacare.
Indeed, Strong reports that House Budget chairman Paul Ryan, Ways and Means chairman Dave Camp, and the leadership had been discussing an escape hatch that would have traded modest entitlement reforms, a tax-reform mechanism, and a token Obamacare alteration for both the CR and the debt ceiling. This, I take it, is what the hardliners hope to head off.
To be sure, Ryan’s not-so-grand-bargain remains possible. But for now, the fight on “entitlement reform on the debt ceiling” will be deferred, or at least not enter center stage. The visible fight will continue to be on the CR/Obamacare, which, in the public mind, is the fight over the shutdown.
Republicans are losing this fight by a good margin. As Strong notes, the GOP’s approval rating in a Gallup poll fell ten points from September, before the shutdown began, to 28 percent, the lowest favorable rating for either political party since the firm began asking the question in 1992.
The Democrats’ approval rating dropped by four points to 43 percent. Since party politics is a zero sum game, the Democrats are winning handily.
Why then is Speaker Boehner on board with Labrador’s plan to focus the fight on a contest Republicans are losing? I’m not sure.
My guess is that Boehner and others in leadership believe they hold the losing hand in both fights and don’t want to fight two losing battles at the same time. But perhaps we’ll learn that Boehner has something more inspired up his sleeve than serial defeat.