By Judd Gregg - 09/23/13 10:00 AM EDT
Most Americans these days are simply ignoring Republicans. And they should.
The self-promotional babble of a few has become the mainstream of Republican political thought. It has marginalized the influence of the party to an appalling degree.
An approach to the debt ceiling that says one will not vote for its extension unless ObamaCare is defunded is the political equivalent of playing Russian roulette with all the chambers of the gun loaded. It is the ultimate no-win strategy.
You cannot in politics take a hostage you cannot shoot. That is what the debt ceiling is. At some point, the debt ceiling will have to be increased not because it is a good idea but because it is the only idea.
Defaulting on the nation’s obligations, which is the alternative to not increasing the debt ceiling, is not an option either substantively or politically.
A default would lead to some level of chaos in the debt markets, which would lead to a significant contraction in economic activity, which would lead to job losses, which would lead to higher spending by the federal government and lower tax revenues, which would lead to more debt.
It understates things to say merely this is not a smart position to put forward. It is a terrible policy that would produce immense economic disruption and very difficult times for people on Main Street.
Yet this is what we are being told is the policy position of those who are the true conservatives in America; the self-declared ‘real voices’ of the Republican Party. ObamaCare must be defunded or there will be no debt ceiling increase, they insist.
The aim is, for a start, clearly unachievable. Barack Obama is president and his party controls the Senate. Neither he nor his party colleagues are about to repeal the signature effort of his presidency.
The rigid stance will also cause massive collateral damage to all Republicans. Even those who may not support it will be harmed by the label of incompetence that will stick to the whole party as a consequence.
The idea is being put forward by people who do not really care what the impact is of a default or a near-default. These are folks who have never governed and are not inclined to do so.
Rather, their goals are improved fundraising and, in some cases, individual advancement. They have hit on an issue that plays well on the stump, producing numerous effective one-liners.
But the outcome will not be to accomplish the change they shout so loudly that they seek, but rather just the opposite. Most Americans will not take kindly to the fiscal fiasco that a default or near-default will bring down upon them and their families.
None of this is to deny that ObamaCare is a disaster, especially for small businesses, most states and many healthcare providers. It should be replaced with something that will actually improve the quality and reduce the costs of healthcare. There are many good ideas in this area but they will not be achieved via an inherently self-defeating strategy.
The confrontation on ObamaCare and entitlement funding generally should not occur on the debt ceiling, where it cannot be won, but rather on the issue of how to fix and replace the sequester.
Beginning next year, there will be a real outcry regarding the arbitrariness of the sequester cuts. At that point, the fight should be joined in earnest over the issue of changing ObamaCare to initiatives that improve and expand healthcare coverage rather than march toward a dysfunctional, single-payer system.
On this, Republicans can easily capture the high ground of being for quality healthcare at more affordable prices. If, at the same time, they push for other entitlement reforms such as changing the way the consumer price index is calculated, they can both mute ObamaCare and swap the sequester’s short-term and counterproductive savings for real fiscal change.
Now is the time to position the party to fight another day, when there is a real chance of success. Early next year, Republicans can show Americans that at least one group in Washington is willing to govern and take the actions that will clean up our fiscal mess.
Most Americans do not seek purity; they seek answers to the everyday problems they confront. They expect their government to be of assistance in addressing those problems, not to aggravate them through artificial and self-inflicted economic mismanagement, such as having a default crisis that could easily be avoided.
If the Republican Party ignores this concern and constantly speaks to an ever-narrower segment of the population, it is not going to be viable for long, no matter how vocal that small band of people may be.
This would not only be a bad outcome for the Republican Party and its members of Congress. It would be bad for the American people, too.