Thursday, October 10, 2013

Messy Messaging and the Blame Game: How the GOP is tripping all over itself in the blame game about the #GOPshutdown (aka #Boehnershutdown and #TeaPartyshutdown); and then there’s the debt ceiling issue…

by Blueberry T

The Republicans’ refusal to pass a measure to fund government operations unless it includes a measure to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA, also known as Obamacare) was a tactic planned long in advance. 

As reported by the New York Times this week, this February 2013 Freedom Works memo lays out a strategy for a CR that retains sequester cuts and defunds the ACA.  Former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese (he of the Wedtech scandal) is the head signatory, along with many other well-known conservatives.  At the risk of understatement, it is a bit disingenuous to blame the President and the Democrats for a shutdown that the Republicans had been planning for months, at least.  

It turns out that shutting down the government was a Republican goal much earlier. Rachel Maddow did an excellent job documenting the many threats of shutdowns and debt defaults that have taken place since the GOP took the House – and even during the 2010 campaign -  including:
  • September 2010 Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) campaigned on the promise to shut down government.
  • Ron Paul and other GOP congressman echoed that sentiment later in 2010.
  • In late 2010, Erick Erickson tweeted “I’m almost giddy thinking about a government shutdown next year. I cannot wait!”
  • The House’s Republican caucus discussed shutting down the government in one of their first meetings as the majority, early in 2011.
  • In April 2011, the House Republicans threatened a government shutdown.
  • In July 2011 they forced the debt ceiling crisis that led to a downgrade of the U.S. credit rating for the first time in history.
  • In September 2011, they again threatened a government shutdown.
  • In April 2012, they again threatened a shutdown.
  • In December 2012, we faced the “fiscal cliff,” which was avoided through last-minute negotiations between Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell; Boehner passed the buck.
  • In January 2013 there were new threats of a debt ceiling crisis.
  • At the late September Republicans’ meeting at which they decided to press ahead with the shutdown, members were “ecstatic,” “psyched,” “downright giddy.” As Michele Bachmann said, “This is exactly what we hoped for…we’re excited; we’re united.” Congressman John Culberson of Texas sent out a message: “I said, like 9/11, let’s roll.” 

Maddow’s take: What he means is, “Let’s bring the U.S. government to its knees.” She points out that the GOP’s core idea of their role is to not to pass laws; it is to shut down the government. The tactic – the shutdown – is the point.  They are willing to go to extremes not seen in more than 150 years to dismantle the U.S.government. 

Against this backdrop, it is especially ironic, hypocritical and thus quintessentially Republican (in this day and age) that now, those same Republicans are trying to convince America that it is really President Obama and the Democrats who are to blame for shutting down the government.  They expected the Democrats to cave, but the Dems finally figured out that there can be no good outcome from negotiating under threats from these extremists.  So, they are hanging tough, which is very, very important and somewhat remarkable. 

Adding to the drama is the looming need to raise the nation’s debt limit, or the Treasury will not have sufficient funds to pay the bills that Congress already authorized, complicating the discussion, confusing many, and alarming those who know enough to realize what a threat this is. 

The Republicans were caught by surprise when the Democrats did not roll over, and since then they have been trying different messages to see what sticks. This is also complicated by the fact that they don’t agree, and some are really angry at others in their own party. In a way that is somewhat unusual (since they are accustomed to using polished, coordinated talking points), the Republicans have made a huge mess of their messaging about all this, with contradictory statements, open disagreements and denials about who said what and who’s to blame. Heh.

Before I get to that, though, an important reminder from our reader alwaysthink: Congress holds the purse-strings in this country, not the President. Spending bills must originate in the House and must be passed by both houses of Congress.  The President can propose a budget, weigh in, try to twist arms and use his bully pulpit – and in the end he gets a choice to veto or not to veto the budgets that Congress passes (but no line item veto). But the immutable fact is that the nation’s debt – now at almost $17 trillion – originated in the House of Representatives and was enacted with the concurrence of the Senate. And as we know, a lot of it was run up by Republican presidents and congresses, most notably during the GWBush Administration.  See also this from Truth-Out, one of many articles and blog posts on this subject.

The GOP on shutting down the government:

Michele Bachmann (R-MN) told Fox News host Sean Hannity that "...this is about the happiest I've seen [Republican House] members in a long time..." because they shut down the government.  

In July, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) called blocking government funding over ObamaCare "the dumbest idea I've ever heard." 

Senator John McCain and others warned their GOP colleagues in the House not to shut down the government, reminding them of what happened whenthey tried this in the 1990s.  Again this week, McCain said that some Republicans had pushed a “false premise” about being able to repeal the ACA, and chided them for the continuing government shutdown.  “Shouldn’t we be embarrassed about this? Shouldn’t we be ashamed?” He also specifically called out the "tea partiers" and said the effort to defund Obamacare a "fool's errand." 

But his Senate “colleagues” (though they don’t seem to like each other too much) Marco Rubio and Mike Lee were pushing the idea of linking a continuing resolution to defunding Obamacare. Then in September, Senator Ted Cruz upstaged them and called on Senators to defund Obamacare, even while knowing the votes were not there; he grandstanded but then conceded and even voted NOT to defund it, and then shifted the onus back onto the House.  As a result, both the House GOP members
and Republicans in the Senate are furious at the Senator from Texas. 

George Stephanopoulos interviewed John Boehner on October 6th, highlighting inconsistencies in the Speaker’s position on the government shutdown; here is the transcript.  Note that in September, Boehner said, “If we were to put Obamacare into the CR and send it over to the Senate, we were risking shutting down the government. That is not our goal.” But on October 6th he changed his tune: "The threat of Obamacare was so important, it was time for us to take a stand. And we took a stand…I thought the fight would be over the debt ceiling. But you know, working with my members, they decided, well, let's do it now. And the fact is, this fight was going to come, one way or the other. We're in the fight.” 

Here is a sample of some of the comments made by other conservatives about the government shutdown:

This past Tuesday, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) admitted that the Republican shutdown is not the best strategy.  "It probably wasn't the best strategy to employ," Johnson, a tea party supporter, said in a CNN interview.  (OTOH, he thinks breaching the debt limit would not be a big deal.)

Conservative John Podhoretz wrote "Suicide of the Right" for the NYPost):  “If ObamaCare had been as unpopular as conservatives believed, their plan for the shutdown — that there would be a public uprising to force Democratic senators in close races in 2014 to defund it — would’ve worked. It didn’t. Not a single senator budged. Their tactic failed, and now what they are left with is House Speaker John Boehner basically begging the president of the United States to negotiate with him.”  

Others disagree. Michael Needham of Heritage Action said the GOP should focus on the tactic of keeping government shut unless Obamacare is defunded. From the Huffington Post:  Rather than try to hold the debt ceiling vote hostage to the defunding of Obamacare, he said, the better "tactical" course for Heritage and other key foes of the administration is to continue to focus on annual spending -- and on allowing the full opening of government only if Obamacare is dismantled… “My tactic is to focus on the CR.”

Matt Kibbe, the president and CEO of the influential conservative group FreedomWorks, also said in a Wednesday interview with The Huffington Post that the debt ceiling should be raised in order to keep the Obamacare fight focused on the continuing resolution.

But Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s message was the opposite – he urged the GOP not to link  defunding of Obamacare to the CR to fund government, saying the GOP would “fold like hotcakes” when the impacts started being felt.  “The only time you shut down the government is when you shut it down and refuse to open it until you accomplish what you want. But we’ll fold like hotcakes,” Coburn told reporters. “You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot. And we will not for sure shoot this hostage.”  “Shutting down the government doesn’t work.”

Then there was the gem from Rep. Marlin Stutzman"We’re not going to be disrespected," the Indiana Republican said of his party's negotiating strategy. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."  That is true; they don’t agree on what they want, other than (as Maddow observed) shutting down government.

Like McCain, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell opposed the shutdown, reminding Republicans that they didn’t like the result of the shutdown in the 1990s. He advocated for the Government Shutdown Prevention Act, saying: 
"It makes it clear that those on my side who thought the government shutdown might be good leverage in the past decided that it isn't and that it should not be pursued." 
As we know, he was not able to prevent Senator Cruz and his followers from pushing the shutdown in the House, however.

Republican Congressman Charles Dent (PA) said Monday that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) is largely responsible for the first government shutdown since 1996.  "But if I had to cast blame anywhere, I would say it was Sen. Cruz and those who insisted upon this tactic that we all knew was not going to succeed," Dent said. "What he did essentially, Sen. Cruz, basically, he took a lot of folks into the ditch. Now that we're in the ditch, you can't get out of the ditch, the senator has no plan to get out of the ditch, those of us who do have a plan to get out of the ditch and will vote to get out of the ditch will then be criticized by those who put us in the ditch in the first place."
Dent said that he will continue to urge House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to bring a "clean" continuing resolution — one that includes no language to undermine the health care law — to a vote.  "And I believe there are the votes to pass a clean CR," Dent said, echoing an assertion by Democrats. 

Rep.Devin Nunes (R-CA) also admitted that the GOP is responsible for the shutdown. “I thought it was a big mistake to say that we were going to get rid of ObamaCare,” Nunes told the show’s host. “I think we’re giving our base — and I’m a conservative Republican, just like Louie — the false interpretation that somehow by not funding the government, we’re going to get rid of ObamaCare, and we simply don’t have the votes to do that.” 

Congressman Peter King (R-NY) has also been outspoken in blaming the GOP for the shutdown. 

This week, after the KochBrothers were named by the NY Times, Senators Reid and Sanders and others for their role pushing and bankrolling the shutdown strategy, they tried to distance themselves from the defund Obamacare strategy.  

Here is a good read on the op-eds by Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan, and the cracks that have emerged in the Republican position.  

And in case you need a good laugh in the midst of such insanity, this is brilliant from the Daily Show – Samantha Bee interviewing Republican Congressman Scott Rigell, the only Republican to vote against the CR that tied funding government to defunding Obamacare (even though he doesn’t like th ACA, he thinks they should get back to governing).

The GOP on refusing to raise the debt ceiling:

Despite being urged to invoke the 14th Amendment by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and many others, President Obama has ruled it out in the event Congress does not act to raise the debt ceiling. He argues that such an action would not address the uncertainty which would destabilize global economic markets, to which the full faith and credit of the United States is vital. I see his point, but the legal issue needs to be settled to stop the GOP’s repeated threats to use this to extract concessions. Unless and until the Administration (or someone else) challenges their tactic and it is resolved through adjudication, the GOP will continue to use the threat of destablilizing the world economy to try to extract concessions from the Democrats.

This article points out that the 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War to give confidence to creditors that Congress could not repudiate the debt.  Good quote:  "Every man who has property in the public funds will feel safer when he sees that the national debt is withdrawn from the power of a Congress to repudiate it and placed under the guardianship of the Constitution than he would feel if it were left at loose ends and subject to the varying majorities which may arise in Congress," argued Sen. Benjamin Wade, a Republican supporter of the amendment.

Boehner, as usual, has been all over the place on this. A few days ago, he said he would allow a bipartisan vote to raise the debt ceiling.  Now, he says, “We're not going to pass a clean debt limit increase.”

The GOP’s positions (which seem to change daily) are very contentious, even among its members and supporters. 

In July, Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) expressed opposition to the idea of threatening not to raise the debt limit:  "I think holding the debt limit hostage to any specific thing is probably not the best negotiating place," Blunt said.  (Note this article seems to conflate not funding the government and not raising the debt limit.) 

There are those who say that the debt limit issue is a tempest in a teapot – no big deal.  Others have pointed out that if this is true, then why would President Obama and the Democrats need to make any concessions about it?  The logical inconsistencies in the GOP arguments burn.  

Senator Coburn claims the debt ceiling is a non-issue – it doesn’t exist.  However, Heritage Action and Freedom Works (both Koch Brothers organizations) do not support failing to raise the debt ceiling.   

The GOP seems more confused than anyone else about what their strategy is.  From Politico: A reality is beginning to dawn on — and eat away at — many House Republicans: They aren’t at all sure of their party's strategy to re-open government and lift the debt ceiling.  “If anybody tells you it’s clear to anybody let me know,” said Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas. 

Perhaps Politico betrays some bias in the same article, though:  "And, in a worrisome sign [me-huh – why is this worrisome?], GOP unity is beginning to fray, little by little. Conservative Republicans are beginning a push to force leadership to handle the debt ceiling and the government shutdown separately — a logistical challenge since the debt limit must be lifted by Oct. 17 and the government has been shut down for a week." 


End Note:

I actually don’t remember the GOP congratulating the President  when this news came out, but perhaps I just overlooked it.


Update 1: 

KatieAnnieOakley posted this (from the National Journalin the comments on the last thread; it seems to fit well with this post.

1) 4/23 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.
2) 5/6 Senator Reid requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.
3) 5/7 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.
4) 5/8 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.
5) 5/9 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator McConnell blocked.
6) 5/14 Senator Warner asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.
7) 5/15 Senator Wyden asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator McConnell blocked.
8) 5/16 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.
9) 5/21 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Paul blocked.
10) 5/22 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.
11) 5/23 Senator McCaskill asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.
12) 6/4 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Rubio blocked.
13) 6/12 Senator Kaine asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Lee blocked.
14) 6/19 Senator Murray asked unanimous consent to go to conference, and Senator Toomey blocked.
15) 6/26 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Cruz blocked.
16) 7/11 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.
17) 7/17 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Mike Lee blocked.
18) 8/1 Senator Durbin requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Marco Rubio blocked.

19) 10/2 Senator Murray requested unanimous consent to go to conference, Senator Toomey blocked.

#EnoughAlready! #JustVote to end the #GOPshutdown! 

Update 2: 

This is what the Washington Post has to say about the GOP's internal battles and shifting messages.

Update 3:  

Here are some illustrations that HopeforAmerica suggested for this post. 

And this one from NJfan:

Turtle Tears found this one: 

Here's another: 

One more!

Update 4

Breaking: House GOP changed the parliamentary rules on September 30th, specifically to prevent anyone except the House Majority Leader (Cantor) or his designee from bringing the Senate spending bill to the floor.  Is there any sane person in America who still thinks the #governmentshutdown is not the GOP's doing? 

Update 5:  Republican Congressman Peter King "goes ballistic on Ted Cruz."   
And this graph should really be part of the post...

Update 6:  MUST WATCH: Congressman Peter King does not mince words about how Ted Cruz is a fraud who has led the Republican Party astray.  This is a classic!

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