Republicans Are Willing to Risk Default Because They Think It's More Important to Dismantle Obamacare

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 19 2013 8:44 AM

Republicans Are Willing to Risk Default Because They Think It's More Important to Dismantle Obamacare

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Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., isn't necessarily onboard the Ted Cruz train to default.

Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images

Last night, after a worthwhile day of hanging around the House of Representatives, I published this story on the GOP leadership's acquiescence to the "defund Obamacare" scheme. None of them can say how or why Democrats would go along with this, instead of saying "you've got to be kidding me" and stripping the Obamacare portion of the continuing resolution in the Senate. Actually, and sort of hilariously, Ted Cruz irritated House Republicans last night by warning that Democrats already had the votes to do so.

But a rump of Republicans were adamant about voting down any CR that didn't defund Obamacare, and the GOP leadership didn't want to irritate them by relying on Democratic votes. No, that will come later. In doing this, the party was unresponsive to most public polling, and betting (or at least saying out loud) that it could convince voters any shutdown was actually Barack Obama's fault. Because that's how it works—if you make a demand, and some guy doesn't meet your demand, and you refuse to pay a bill, it's that guy's fault.

There is a logic here, explained by Greg Sargent and his bag of data from the Washington Post poll.

Republicans are far more likely to oppose raising the debt limit than anyone else; they say don’t raise it by 61-25. By contrast, Dems say raise it by 62-31, and independents split by 48-46 on raising versus not raising it.
Republicans, however, also believe overwhelmingly that not raising it would cause serious economic harm — by 66-27. (Dems and indys tilt the same way.)
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Again, it's logical, because they know failing to raise the debt limit will be harmful but view that as a casualty in the war on Obamacare, which would literally ruin the American economy for all knowable time. The GOP's problem is twofold. One: Some of its quieter, safer members, like Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, don't want to go along with this. (He told me and a few other reporters yesterday that, in the end, he didn't want to risk a shutdown or default.) Two: The GOP is supposed to be convincing voters that any shutdown or default would be Obama's fault!

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.