There’s been a lot of confusion about what, exactly, is motivating the Republican Party’s marathon of ultra-conservative madness. It’s certainly a valid topic for bewilderment, not the least bit because it seems that even Republicans themselves are no longer sure about what they’re hoping to accomplish here.
Their demands are, individually, becoming ever more muddled and, as a movement, increasingly more inconsistent.
Reopen the government, some say; don’t reopen the government. Raise the debt ceiling; don’t raise the debt ceiling. It’s about the Affordable Care Act (ACA)… except when it’s not.
The conservative Heritage Foundation’s mega-influential Heritage Action group, which spent some $100 million on pro-shutdown TV ads in the six months leading up to October 1, went from being one of the most vocal opponents of raising the debt ceiling to, just a few days ago, a born-again proponent of the very opposite.
The same applied to the Koch Brothers, the band of rolling-in-the-money brothers responsible for pumping billions into powerful conservative groups like Heritage Action (including tens of millions for those pro-shutdown ads alone). Last week, they backed down from their original position of being uncompromisingly pro-shutdown to suddenly announcing that “they have not taken a position on the legislative tactic”—going so far as to pen a letter to the United States Senate in which they affirm their sudden lack of a stance.
Is it even about the Affordable Care Act anymore? Heritage and Koch say it is; Americans for Prosperity say it’s not. In his letter to House Speaker John Boehner, which got 81 House Republicans’ signatures and played a make-or-break role in starting the shutdown, freshman House Republican Mark Meadows insisted on “defund[ing] the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare in any relevant appropriations bill”—until last week, that is, when he totally reversed his stance.
Messages that differ from person to person and day to day make any attempt to decipher the Republican Party’s goals or draw out a single, cohesive game plan akin to reading tea leaves. It would make for a great intro to probability problem to see how many different combinations of flip-floppery these various groups and politicians can achieve.
It’s worth noting that, throughout all of this, President Obama and Democrats in both houses of Congress have been clear and consistent about the details of their demands. Long before the shutdown began, Democrats had made it crystal clear that they would not back any measure that doesn’t fully reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling without stonewalling the ACA.
But if not about a consistent message, what, then, is this all about?
It’s certainly not about “compromise.” In addition to the fact that the Affordable Care Act was itself a compromise (RIP single-payer), Senate Democrats have made 19 distinct attempts—all of them rebuffed—to compromise with Republican leadership. Democrats have even agreed to fund the government at Republican levels as early as September 30—the same day the GOP voted to amend House rules so that only Majority Leader Eric Cantor or Speaker John Boehner could call a clean budget resolution up for a vote. This whole shutdown fiasco could have been over before it even began.
Even now, President Obama has made repeated attempts to reach out to House Republicans, cancelling foreign trips and rescheduling countless engagements to try to work out a deal with Boehner’s party. Last week, he even invited all 232 House Republicans to discuss the budget at the White House. Eighteen showed up.
Nor is any of this really about the national debt.
If it were, House Republicans would not have had zero qualms about wasting 110 hours and nearly $70 million ($1.45 million per vote) in federal funding to hold 46 symbolic, doomed-from-the-beginning votes to repeal the ACA, a piece of legislation that will, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), reduce the federal deficit by $200 billion in its first 10 years of operation and over $1 trillion over the course of its first 20. Repealing the ACA, on the other hand, would add a projected net $109 billion to our national debt (again, according to the CBO).
Meanwhile, each day of the shutdown costs our government a net loss of $300 million, for a grand running total of $4.5 billion.
Because it’s ultimately not about compromise, or the debt, or about any of those things. Rather, it’s about House Republicans’ fear of being out-righted by a more conservative opponent in the 2014 primaries. It’s the exact same motivation as the one that inspired Mitt Romney to work so damn hard to distance himself from Romneycare in 2012, going so far as to make repealing the ACA on his first day in office one of the defining promises of his presidential campaign (never mind that the ACA was based on Romneycare).
It’s about wanting to get re-elected.
Towards the beginning of this crisis, the public and the news media divided blame pretty equally between the two parties and the president. But, by now, it’s pretty clear that blame should fall only on one side of the aisle. Polls consistently show Republican approval and favorability ratings are at record-breaking lows, and the public is blaming the GOP for the shutdown by a 22-point margin.
It’s time for the Republican Party to stop holding the government for ransom and to start taking responsibility for the completely unnecessary crisis it has single-handedly manufactured by passing a clean budget and a long-term increase to the debt ceiling.
Maybe then it can start taking the first steps towards forging some semblance of a new beginning and pulling themselves back out of the political grave in which its suicide mission of a statement has left them.
Anastasia Golovashkina is a third-year in the College majoring in economics.