What Were Republicans Thinking?
Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online today to chat about the end of the government shutdown. Here is a lightly edited transcript.
Ramesh: So, crisis over -- or maybe just postponed. The Senate deal to raise the debt limit and reopen the government seems likely to pass both chambers. But what happens in a few months? Some Republicans clearly think that they would have been able to win major concessions from the Democrats if they had just been tougher and held out longer. Do we get to relive these past few weeks?
Margaret: What a grim picture of Three Grumpy Old Men -- Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Harry Reid -- as they sit in the rotunda having only accomplished not pushing the country into the abyss. What a goal for a life, avoiding complete and utter catastrophe -- and doing it a few months at a time. Are they addicted to the rush you get from danger? I think so. I can't help also agreeing with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal that yours is the "Stupid Party." Some of what was said over the last few weeks reveals a stupefying lack of knowledge, or wanting to gain any. There are no child-rearing skills that work: The right wing and the Tea Party caucus can't be told something is bad for them, they have to try it for themselves and pull everyone down with them. What is Senator Ted Cruz thinking? I know you know. Please tell me, I'm begging you.
Ramesh: I imagine that Cruz is thinking that pushing a sweeping bill on a party-line vote over the opposition of most Americans is bound to produce political volatility. The struggle against Obamacare is going to continue. And what the opponents have going for them isn't the determination of Senator Cruz or Senator McConnell but the law itself, which day by day seems to be turning into a bigger fiasco than even most conservatives predicted. Over the last few weeks, the House Republican leadership was trying to broker a deal in which the fines for not buying insurance would be delayed. The way things are going, the administration may well have to implement that delay itself.
Margaret: Have at Obamacare all you want, just don't show yourselves to be crazy in the process. It scares the children. The speaker of the House just can't let the Tea Party rule; they aren't good stewards. They act as if the national parks run themselves. Two of my favorite congressmen, Doc Hastings of Washington and Darrell Issa of California, are now going to waste our money looking into the park service's shutdown. They're shocked (shocked!) that government does things they approve of and it costs money. Please investigate how many people with Stage 4 cancer awaiting trials at the National Cancer Institute lost precious weeks while Representative Marlin Stutzman said someone had to apologize for dissing Republicans and give them what they want -- whatever that is, he didn't know. And let's not even talk about the default deniers. On the other hand, back to Obamacare, the president should fire someone for not getting the obvious, visible part of the program right. The chief technology guy, maybe? Obama needs to get very angry at the incompetence and fire him. Get the things people use to interact with government right, no matter what it takes.
Ramesh: One question, though, is whether it's just technological incompetence that's to blame. Were the techies given unrealistic deadlines by a slow-starting administration, and did political decisions interfere with the design? I don't think we have a full answer to those questions. Firing the people responsible for the problems, once they've been identified, makes sense -- but it isn't as important as fixing the problems, and so far there isn't much sign that's happening. You're right, Margaret, that Republicans have been fighting against Obamacare the wrong way these last few weeks. In the long run, though, I suspect the rollout of Obamacare, and whether it gets better, will be the more important story.
Margaret: And I assume you will agree that those red states that wouldn't participate sabotaged the rollout? This morning the Houston Chronicle regretted their endorsement of Cruz in last year's Senate race. It's unlikely to bother him much and maybe as the Chronicle is a "lamestream" media outlet, he'll wear it as a badge of honor, a la Sarah Palin. I await the reaction of cooler heads as we get off this cliff. Is there any penalty that matters to the anarchists? I fear they loved every minute.
Ramesh: States didn't "sabotage" the health-care law by exercising one of their options under it: letting the federal government run the exchange instead of doing it themselves. If you have a problem with that, you have a problem with the law. And some of the states with their own exchanges aren't doing that well either. As for Cruz, an old friend of mine: I don't think anyone who supported him and his House allies has decided they were wrong after all. They haven't lost supporters. I wouldn't put money against Cruz winning Iowa in 2016. But I think/hope that some of the House Republicans who went along because it seemed like the path of least resistance have realized that this course was a mistake, and that they won't repeat it.