Opinion

The Obamacare circular firing squad

W. James Antle III Managing Editor

“Nancy Pelosi is more well-liked around here,” an anonymous Republican aide bitched to National Review about Ted Cruz.

“In the United States Senate, we will not repeal or defund Obamacare. We will not. And to think we can is not rational,” John McCain told CNN.

Cruz has dismissed the House’s repeated “empty, symbolic votes” to repeal and delay Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act is unpopular. Millions of Americans prefer the care they already have to that which the law purports to make affordable. Even the lawmakers who wrote it and the labor unions that spent liberally to help enact it are finding it a raw deal.

Substantial parts of the law have been delayed and plenty of politically connected organizations and businesses have gotten waivers. Polls show that many Americans would like waivers or delays for themselves. This is true of independents and a significant minority of Democrats, not just Republicans. There is bipartisan support in Congress for repealing the medical devices tax and delaying the individual mandate.

But you wouldn’t know anything about this because at the precise moment Obamacare has begun to fall apart, when it is denounced as much at an AFL-CIO convention as a meeting of Tea Party Patriots, Republicans have opted to train their fire on one another.

No one faction is entirely to blame. Capitol Hill is filled with Republicans who would rather complain about Ted Cruz’s table manners than do anything about Obamacare. Cruz’s supporters have elevated tactical differences into theological disputes.

The party has spent months divided between an anti-Obamacare strategy that is unworkable and an anti-Obamacare strategy that is nonexistent. No one has covered themselves in glory here. Now Republicans are running out of time to salvage even a symbolic victory of reminding the American people how out of touch the Democrats are on Obamacare.

As the end of the fiscal year fast approaches, we are faced with two unpleasant prospects: a Republican surrender that will humiliate and enrage conservative activists or a government shutdown that will turn much of the rest of the country against Republicans, again taking the spotlight off Obamacare.

Ever since Newt Gingrich became speaker, Republicans have developed a knack for making fiscal responsibility look irresponsible. The federal government currently piles up as much debt in a decade as it once took 200 years to amass. It took until 1987 for the federal budget to reach $1 trillion and until 1998 for the national debt to reach $5 trillion. The debt ceiling was $2.3 trillion in 1980, a number that would tank Washington’s credit rating today.

Yet the Democrats who want to continue this insane trajectory, even accelerate it, are responsible and sane. The Republican complaining about it looks crazy, because his only recourse is to deliver angry speeches on CSPAN while zookeepers and NASA employees are being furloughed.

There is a very simple pattern to how Republicans behave in these legislative dust-ups. First, they demand policy concessions, angering Democrats who don’t believe Republicans should be involved in making policy. Then there is a stalemate, which angers independents who don’t like stalemates. Then after the thousandth television report about how their savage budget cuts are dooming America, the Republicans cave, angering their remaining supporters.

Republicans truly are uniters, not dividers.

Some of this is simply due to media bias, but a prominent Republican will always find a way to reinforce this narrative. Think Gingrich complaining about sitting in the back of Bill Clinton’s airplane. Or Republicans discussing their Obamacare strategy in terms of what will make John Boehner or Ted Cruz look bad.

The only time this has come close to working was with sequestration, which trimmed federal outlays from $3.598 trillion to $3.537 trillion, rather than letting them balloon to $4 trillion.

In a world that hadn’t gone mad, Republicans could portray the president as someone who is unwilling to compromise, just so he can force ordinary taxpayers to buy a product from his buddies in the insurance industry — just as he has waived that requirement for large employers, publicly admitting he did so at the request of big business. “I didn’t simply choose to delay this on my own,” he said.

Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash tweeted that President Obama “should understand that Americans are demanding that he compromise” on Obamacare, spending, and debt.

But the Democrats don’t want to compromise and the Republicans are fighting each other. The Grand Old Circular Firing Squad.

We have seen the enemy and it is us.

W. James Antle III is the editor of The Daily Caller News Foundation and author of the recently released book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? Follow him on Twitter.