Some House Republicans seem to have settled on Ted Cruz and the Tea Party as the scapegoats for the party’s apparent capitulation in the budget and debt ceiling fights. Robert Costa of National Review Online relates that members of the Republican caucus are frustrated with their leadership for letting themselves be led by a “bloc of 20.” That certainly mirrors what the media has said throughout.
But the truth is more complex. The fact is that House Republican leaders followed a strategy they already had in place. It relied on the Full Faith and Credit Act (otherwise known as McClintock-Toomey) to be a backstop against default in the event that the Oct. deadline came and went without a deal. The bill would have directed the Treasury to ensure that the country’s debts were paid first even if it could not borrow.
That bill was passed by the House in May. It gathered dust in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid opposed it. President Barack Obama said that he would veto it. But it had been the strategy of the House GOP leadership for several months leading up to the budget and debt ceiling negotiations in the fall. It did not take Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) to push House leaders into a confrontation: they were ready for one already.
What Tea Party members can justly be accused of is refusing to swallow the junior role to which they had been relegated in the 2011 debt ceiling fight and the 2012 fiscal cliff fight. Again and again, they did their duty and voted for what they saw as bad agreements in order to keep the party together and the country from economic collapse. They were more vociferous this time because they were tired of getting rolled.
Yet keep in mind that the conventional wisdom in the Beltway–expressed, for example, by none other than Charles Krauthammer, who opposed a government shutdown–was that Republicans should stage a fight over the debt ceiling. They regretted that conservatives’ stand against Obamacare overshadowed what they thought would be a nice, clean fiscal fight. But Obama had no intention of negotiating–Tea Party or not.
Obama’s refusal to move–bolstered by Reid, who held the line when the president’s “no negotiations” stance appeared wobbly–will be praised to the skies by Democrats. Yet all he will have achieved, substantively, at the end of this fight is a return to the status quo. He could have traded a one-year delay in the individual mandate of Obamacare for another priority. He did not–he simply wanted the GOP to fold.
In Obama’s mind, that will pave the way for Republican capitulation on every issue. But if the Republican caucus holds together–and it probably will, though Boehner’s fate is uncertain–he will find cause to regret that “no negotiation” stance. His presidency will be on hold while Obamacare crumbles on its own. These are not the “Council Wars” of 1980s Chicago, waiting for a racist Democrat front to crack. This is America.