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The Pointless Bickering Over Defund or Delay

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The amount of heat generated on Capitol Hill by the defund/delay argument on the right has increased dramatically in recent days.

“Republicans on Capitol Hill are abuzz about a flare-up that occurred in the Republican Study Committee’s weekly staff meeting. Neil Bradley, a top aide to Majority Leader Eric Cantor, made a rare appearance at the meeting to discuss CR strategy. During that discussion, Bradley said that in the event of a government shutdown, U.S. soldiers would not receive their paychecks. Max Pappas, an aide to Texas senator Ted Cruz who was on hand, rose to argue that in the event the House and President Obama were at odds when government funding expired, Republicans could pass a bill to fund the troops and other core priorities. At that point, a woman rose, identifying herself as a staffer to a Texas Republican. Pappas, she said, was “not dealing in reality” and making everyone else’s life difficult. The staffer, whom two GOP sources identified as working for Representative John Culberson of Texas, went on to decry Cruz for holding events in Culberson’s district and telling his constituents that defunding Obamacare would be “easy.” A significant number in the room of about one hundred people applauded the woman’s remarks, but several GOP aides said it was not a standing ovation or an overwhelmingly positive response.”

Much of this debate has been carried out in public among people like Jim Capretta and Jeffrey Anderson, who argue the play should be delay. And Avik Roy, who brands Cruz and the others as Obamacare defeatists. But I remain unconvinced that any of these approaches are any smarter or more likely to succeed than the somehow “more radical” defunding approach, and I think it’s a bit silly to expect GOPers who won’t hold the line on a government shutdown to hold the same line on risking default. I do share the belief that fighting for delay is always more realistic (and polls better) than defunding, and that a debt ceiling fight reflects more on the president than the Congress (where the reverse is true of a CR), but it also makes sense to open any conflict with defunding, because you’re only going to move backwards from there. After all, you are a Republican.

In any case, this is all pointless and irrelevant: Republicans on Capitol Hill, in leadership or in the conservative wing, are seeking a point of leverage that does not exist. The president would like nothing better than to force a government shutdown and benefit from both the immediate backlash and the inevitable Republican cave. This is true of the CR or the debt ceiling, defund or delay, however you want to approach it.

Arguing that one untenable position is savvy and politically intelligent while the other untenable position is crazy or ideologically treacherous is something Republicans have made something of a science in recent years. Had they been willing to fight Obamacare’s passage initially with a knife in their teeth, perhaps they wouldn’t be here now – but even then, they lacked the foresight, the spine, and the resolve to do battle on the same terms as Capitol Hill Democrats. For as intransigent as the media paints them, you’d think they’d do a better job of it.