Enough Republicans have derided the Tea Party-backed plan to shut down the government unless President Obama agrees to kill the Affordable Care Act, as "suicidal" and "dishonest" that it's fair to assume it won't happen.
But it did have an impact. It set expectations for the appropriations fight so high that all Republicans -- even the ones who get how futile the plan is -- now feel they need to at least look like they're trying to strong-arm the administration. To make outrageous demands, even if they don't really mean them.
And that's exactly where the rest of the party's headed. In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a group of 19 conservatives, led by anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist, ask the Republican leaders to include a year-long delay of all the ACA's key provisions in any legislation to fund the government beyond September 30, when current appropriations lapse.
"To help the American people avoid getting hit by what Senator Max Baucus memorably referred to as “a huge train wreck coming down,” we the undersigned urge you to insist on, at minimum as part of any final deal, a one-year delay of all 2014 provisions (including mandates, subsidies, and taxes) in the upcoming CR [continuing resolution] and in fiscal negotiations with the White House," the letter reads.
The odds that President Obama would sign spending legislation that delays his health care law for a year (zero) are the same as the odds that he'd sign legislation that completely defunds it.
And Grover knows this. His group, Americans for Tax Reform, has opposed the defund-or-shutdown strategy for weeks. Which means he's either come around, or there's some wiggle room here. And I think the key is that "[we] urge you to insist" has more wiggle room in it than "[we] insist that you block."
In a statement this afternoon, ATR spokesman John Kartch explained, "This letter urges Congress on a course of action--in this case, delay of Obamacare. It does not issue any threats, veiled or otherwise, to shut down the government. The letter positively pledges support of the broad Obamacare repeal community in efforts Congress may make to delay implementation of Obamacare. It also recognizes that the continuing resolution is but one lever to achieve the goals of the Obamacare repeal community. In short, it's an exhortation to principle while recognizing the need for 'world-as-it-is' flexibility. We are confident that Congressional conservatives will do everything within their power to delay, defund, and repeal Obamacare, and we support them in their efforts."
Norquist's tax lobbyist, Ryan Ellis (who regularly tussles with defund-or-shutdown diehards on Twitter) explained the strategy last week here: "i'm for puttting anything and everything (incl defunding) in the CR and then seeing what we can negotiate."
Roughly translated, that means McConnell and Boehner should insist on a year-long ACA delay in negotiations to avoid a government shutdown -- maybe even pass that legislation in the House to establish an official GOP position -- but then accede to reality when Obama and Democrats make clear (again!) that it's a non-starter.
That's the more reasonable of the two leading conservative government shutdown strategies. And yet it's not unreasonable enough to emancipate Grover from the so-called "surrender caucus."
Fortunately for him, it looks like he'll have some company. In a statement yesterday, Rep. David Camp (R-MI) -- chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee -- backed a full-year delay.
"The American people should not have to pay for the failures of this law," he said. "If the law doesn't work, and it doesn’t, then we ought to delay the entire law for at least one year."