By DEBRA J. SAUNDERS
Republicans basically have two choices when it comes to how to deal with the dysfunction and big-spending ways that define Washington. They can point a finger at the GOP for not working with — also known as giving in to — Democrats, who ostensibly are more in touch with American voters. That’s how some Republicans become media darlings.
Or they can concentrate on the bad decisions made by D.C.’s ruling party, which controls the White House and Senate and, during President Barack Obama’s first two years in office, controlled all three branches of government. I like to save my fire for the folks with the most power, not the least.
That said, sometimes Republicans embrace ideas that are so breathtakingly dumb that adherents need to be slapped silly. I refer, of course, to the threat championed by GOP Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah to block a continuing resolution to keep the government running after Sept. 30 unless that legislation defunds Obamacare. If they succeed, there will be a partial federal shutdown.
The defund-Obamacare movement reminds me of the guy in the joke who, finding his wife in bed with another man, grabs his gun and points it to his own head. When the wife’s lover laughs, the husband says: “Don’t laugh. You’re next.”
On the Senate floor, Lee asked his fellow Republicans how they can say they oppose Obamacare if they vote for a bill that would help fund it. “Defund it, or own it,” quoth Lee. “If you fund it, you’re for it.”
The Tea Party has its own Pottery Barn rule: If you don’t break it, you own it.
The problem isn’t that Cruz and Lee want to play the system in a way that overturns a 2009 law. The president himself unilaterally decided to suspend the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate and eligibility verification rules for a year without working with Congress.
The problem is that the defund-Obamacare plan cannot work. Cruz suggests that in this game of brinkmanship, “the only way that impasse ends is if someone blinks. Why is it that every Republican in Washington seems to assume President Obama will always stick by his principles and the only way it ends is we cave?”
A Cruz aide referred to GOP critics as the “surrender caucus.” Wrong. It’s the caucus of Republicans who can count, who know that if Cruz and Lee somehow scrounge 41 votes to pass their own spending bill and the House votes yes, Obama will veto the bill and the Democratic Senate will not override the veto. Meanwhile, the very threat of a government shutdown will have added to the uncertainty that hobbles the U.S. economy.
Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., rightly slammed the defund-Obamacare gambit as “intellectually dishonest.” It sets up, he said, “an expectation among the conservatives in our party that we can achieve something that we’re not able to achieve.”
And for what, the ability to blame the other side? I thought that was Obama’s specialty.
Meanwhile, Cruz and Lee and their brethren are boosting their profile by making Republicans who can count votes look jaded. They’re me-me-me, not GOP.