Rob Horowitz: Speaker Boehner Joins the Shutdown and Default Caucus

Tuesday, September 24, 2013


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Reluctantly bowing to the influential hard right wing of the his caucus, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) last week demanded a one year delay in the implementation of Obamacare as ransom for continuing to fund the government as well as for increasing the debt ceiling. This ill-advised and irresponsible position, if not modified, risks both a government shutdown and default on US debt. Boehner counseled his fellow House Republicans against this course, arguing it was potentially politically disastrous. Unfortunately, at least so far, he has failed to persuade a sufficient number to follow his lead.

In response to Boehner’s declaration, President Obama said, “You have never seen in the history of the United States the debt ceiling or the threat of not raising the debt ceiling being used to extort a President or a governing party”. It is the case that the recent House Republican actions on the debt ceiling, now and in 2011—when they caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the United States credit rating—are unprecedented. Before then, the full faith and credit of the United States was never put at risk to win a policy dispute—no matter how important. Further, it is crystal clear to nearly all informed observers, whether they are Democrats or Republicans, that there is no chance of the Senate joining the House and delaying the implementation of the Affordable Health Act for a year.

A questionable strategy

Of course, President Obama’s strongly negative reaction to Boehner was predictable. More telling, however, is the reaction of a good number of members of the Speaker's own party. Here’s a sampling:

Citing a recent poll showing that independents by a margin of nearly two-to-one oppose using the threat of a government shutdown to defund Obamacare, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Bush strategist Karl Rove wrote, “Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it.

Representative Peter King (R-NY) told CNN said that his party was "carrying out a fraud with the people by somehow implying or even saying that this strategy is going to win."

Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) said, “The government we have should work, so that's why I don't believe we should shut the government down."

Representative Tom Cole (R-OK), House Deputy Whip and former Chief of Staff at the Republican National Committee, said, “It is awfully hard to repeal Obamacare when a guy named Obama is president of the United States. We’re in a position to stop a lot of what he wants to do. We’re not in a position to undo.”

And on Face the Nation on Sunday, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) said, “Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this. We're not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we’re not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can’t do that.”

There are many legislative maneuvers open to Speaker Boehner (R-OH), allowing his members to continue to voice their strong objections to Obamacare, without shutting down the government or defaulting on our debt. Let’s hope for that kind of course correction before the real damage to our economy and world standing begins to be done.


Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island.


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