Beltway conservatives have been warning for weeks that the movement to defund Obamacare through the upcoming budget debate is a political loser. Even columnist Charles Krauthammer, often sympathetic to the Tea Party movement, recently called the move to defund Obamacare a “suicide caucus” because of the risk that their efforts would force a government shutdown just as Republicans were gaining an edge on Democrats.
However, a new poll by Rasmussen indicates that a majority of Americans–51% to 40%–would favor shutting down the government, at least partially, rather than funding Obamacare. Americans who now face the prospect of higher insurance costs, fewer working hours, and the loss of their health coverage or their jobs are willing to suffer a brief interruption in non-essential government services until those problems are solved.
In other worse, the conventional wisdom is wrong–at least about the politics of defunding Obamacare.
GOP insiders had subscribed to the left-wing view that Democrats would benefit from any government shutdown, as they did in the 1990s. They believed, like NPR’s Nina Totenberg, that “all” of the polling data showed that while people dislike Obamacare, “people don’t want to defund it.”
If that were ever true, it is no longer.
Americans oppose Obamacare by strong and growing majorities, but the Republican Party has failed to build an agenda around that majority. They failed most painfully in 2012, when the party’s nominee–the only one who could be elected, also according to conventional wisdom–was Mitt Romney, who enacted a very similar reform as Governor of Massachusetts. Since then, congressional leaders have continued to neglect the issue.
Even on aspects of Obamacare that are opposed almost universally by the American people–such as the new congressional staff exemption, rejected by 94% of Americans–Republicans in Congress have largely been silent (worse, some even supported the exemption).
It is true that Americans might turn against a shutdown once it actually began to bite. But the risk is one that visionary political leadership would be ready to tackle.
The Democrats who plotted–years in advance–to use universal health care in 2009 as a battering ram for even more radical legislation were confident that people would never give up their new entitlement once they had it. Today, it is the conservative wing of the Republican Party that is fighting for Americans’ right to keep their health insurance.
This is a bread-and-butter issue like no other. It is no “suicide mission.” It is a no-brainer.