The Republican base must not require its representatives in Congress to run off a cliff and commit suicide as the price of avoiding a primary challenge in 2014. The Tea Party must not eat its young.
Polling shows that there are nowhere near the pre-conditions in place that would be necessary for a government shutdown over defunding ObamaCare. Americans oppose defunding it by 44 percent to 38 percent, according to a recent CNBC All-America Economic Survey — and when it comes to shutting down the government to force its defunding, opposition swells to 19-59.
How do voters reconcile their opposition to ObamaCare with their opposition to a government shutdown to defund it? Think of the issue of teachers’ pay and schools: voters strongly favor increases in teacher pay, but they just as strongly oppose teacher strikes, which close down schools as a way of achieving higher pay.
The whole idea of a government shutdown is a huge negative, implying a total instability of the two parties to co-exist or to govern. And polling suggests that voters are far more likely to blame Republicans for gridlock and conflict in Washington than Democrats. Instead of baiting its supporters to shut down the government to defund ObamaCare, the Tea Party and base voters should be demanding a firm stand on increasing the debt limit. While voters feel there is nothing positive to be achieved by shutting down the government, they do agree with stopping additional government borrowing until or unless there are substantial cuts in spending.
Debt, especially government debt, has a bad odor in this era of a $16 trillion national debt. Extending the debt limit — raising the limit on the government’s credit card — has a very bad feel to it if it is not matched by a cut in public spending.
The Republican insistence on sequester cuts as the price for the last debt-limit extension triggered the first real deficit reduction since the Clinton years. While some felt the sequester was a negative for Republicans, it was not — it is just what the public wants.
Republicans should pass enough of a debt-limit expansion to accommodate debt service payments for 30 days and then demand that any further expansion be subject to spending cuts. Eliminating the medical device tax, scaling back ObamaCare, capping means-tested entitlements like Medicaid and food stamps and even basic tax reform should be on the agenda. Having cut discretionary spending to very low levels, Republicans should turn to entitlements — not Social Security or Medicare, but to welfare spending, and insist on caps.
If the Democrats stand firm and demand a clean debt-limit expansion, Republicans could then force a government shutdown by refusing to raise the debt limit (except to pay debt service already owed). While this will be the same battle as the one that ensued over the continuing resolution, it would be on very different and much more advantageous terrain. Voters would see the link between spending cuts and the debt limit and would heartily approve of the Republican position. President Obama, on the other hand, would find himself begging to be allowed more borrowing — not a good message to have to sell.
Morris, who served as adviser to former Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and former President Clinton, is the author of 16 books, including his latest, Screwed and Here Come the Black Helicopters. To get all of his and Eileen McGann’s columns for free by email, go to dickmorris.com.