Why It's So Hard to Blame Obama if the Government Shuts Down

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 19 2013 6:42 PM

Why It's So Hard to Blame Obama if the Government Shuts Down

As the House GOP gets ready to pass a doomed defunding of Obamacare in the continuing resolution, the party is doing its best to pin any blame for a possible shutdown on President Obama. In mid-afternoon, the National Republican Senatorial Committee pushed that message, with chairman Sen. Jerry Moran saying "one would think that Democratic Senators like Mark Pryor and Mark Begich and candidates like Alison Lundergan Grimes and Natalie Tennant would avoid this kind of error and condemn gimmicky countdown clocks and campaigns that come dangerously close to celebrating a shutdown."* This succeeded in baiting the DSCC into a Twitter war about the meaning of it all.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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This is what people do in Washington to amuse themselves. Anyway: The Republicans have to carry this meme up a very steep hill. It's not just that polls show most Americans blaming them if the government shuts down. It's that the specific actions about to be taken force Republicans to become aggressors. The CR is coming to the Senate, and the first vote on it will be for cloture to start debate. As Niels Lesniewski explains,

at the point Democrats need GOP votes to overcome a filibuster threat, any Republican senator casting a “yes” vote on a motion to invoke cloture, and thus limiting debate, will still be voting on a bill that would cut off money for Obamacare.
After cloture is invoked with at least 60 votes, any pending amendments that are germane to the underlying measure (such as one to strike part of the text) automatically get votes at the end of 30 hours of debate — with simple majority thresholds for adoption.

If Republicans deny cloture to start debate, they're filibustering the resolution to fund the government. After the amendment is attached -- and it needs only 51 of 54** Democrats to be attached -- Republicans will be faced with a series of choices about stopping it. Do they vote against cloture on final passage? Well, then they'd be filibustering the funding resolution, which would shut down the government. Does Cruz, as promised, do a talking filibuster before losing the cloture vote -- a possibility, as some Republicans are openly cold on this plan? Then he will be filibustering as the shutdown approaches. Does the House GOP reject the amended CR? Then the House GOP will be shutting down the government. You can say that these actions are only a rearguard fight against an "out of control president's" desire to fund the 2010 health care law... because, well, that's true. But you're the ones fighting. He's standing, waiting to sign a bill, promising to veto one that undoes the law. And the people refusing to give the president the bill he wants are going to look an awful lot like the prime actors here.

*Countdown clocks "celebrate" the moment being counted down to? These people need to watch more sci-fi movies involving self-destruct buttons.

**For one more month, New Jersey is represented by a placeholder Republican senator.

(This post originally called "Jerry Moran" by the name of a Democratic congressman, Jim Moran.)

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.