The elusive Plan C

Tomorrow, the Senate will reject the House’s Plan B — i.e., to fund the federal government for the next few months, with: a one-year delay in Obamacare, repeal of the medical device tax, protection of servicemen’s salaries, and postponement of Obamacare’s requirement that employers pay for their employees’ birth control. The fact that Harry Reid has waited until tomorrow, and quite possibly tomorrow afternoon, to reject Plan B shows that he wants to see a government shutdown because he is confident that Republicans will be blamed for it.

Reid’s confidence is probably justified. The most recent poll that I’m aware of, a CBS News-New York Times survey, finds that 44 percent of the public would blame Republicans and 35 percent would blame Obama and the Democrats for a shutdown. Sixteen percent would blame both parties equally. And once the mainstream media goes into full-spin mode, the split will likely become worse for Republicans.

So what is Plan C for Republicans? According to the Washington Post, Speaker Boehner and others House leaders are mulling over several options.

One is to tie the CR to repeal of the medical-device tax. In principle, the Dems probably don’t oppose such repeal. But would they provide Boehner this exit strategy, given their belief that they are about to receive a windfall? For what it’s worth, Dick Durbin says they won’t.

If the Dems don’t go along, would their obstinacy cause the public to blame them for a shutdown? Probably not. The issue lacks sex appeal.

Finally, even if the Dems permit Boehner to save face with this sort of an exit, how much face would it save? Obamacare would be left virtually untouched. Thus, the faction that has driven Boehner into this showdown will not be satisfied.

A second approach mentioned by the Post is to attack a different part of Obamacare, such as the special board created to keep Medicare costs low — i.e., the death panel. But I don’t see the Dems biting on this; nor do I see it as a political game-changer in the event of a shutdown.

A third approach is to eliminate health-insurance subsidies for lawmakers and their staffs. A refusal by Democrats to accept this modification could be a political game-changer. The public may be unwilling to get in the weeds of medical-device taxes and special boards, but it will readily understand a refusal by congressional Democrats to accept the medical insurance provisions it has saddled the rest of us with.

Unfortunately, according to the Post, it’s doubtful that the House will, in effect, cut its own benefits. Populism has its limits.

The final option is for House Republicans to throw in the towel. But I doubt they are willing to accept total defeat at this point. More likely they will let the process play out for a while and see how painful it proves to be, and for whom.