Friday Talking Points -- Shutdown Follies

Well, I have to admit -- I never thought John Boehner was stupid enough to shut the government down over Obamacare. Shows what I know, right? Sigh.

I think the stupidest thing about a very stupid week for the Republicans, though, was how they stomped all over a news story they've been salivating over for four years now. Because the shutdown coincided with the launch of the Obamacare exchanges, we've heard a whole lot of news stories about the shutdown, but the exchanges (as puts it) now have the chance to make a "second first impression." The fracas over the shutdown all but drowned out the stories of glitches on the exchanges. Which, as mentioned, the Republicans have been itching to hear for years. Whoops!

Now, in a former lifetime, I tested computer software for a living. It paid better than this job, but I have to say it wasn't anywhere near as fun. In any case, I fully expected there to be some technical problems with the launch of such a huge computer system. There always are. It's the big secret that keeps software testers in business, actually: bug-free software does not exist. Especially with online sites. So I've known all along there would be problems. But, thanks to the shutdown, most media haven't focused on them nearly as much as they would have if the shutdown didn't exist (with the exception, no doubt, of Fox News, which I haven't watched all week).

Instead, we've been focusing on John Boehner, who more and more has taken on the aspect of a trapped feral weasel, looking desperately for a way out of the situation he created. He's not quite ready to gnaw his own leg off to escape the trap, but it looks like he's getting close.

Republicans have already tossed Ted Cruz to the wolves. Republican wolves, it should be noted. First, the Republican senators gave Cruz an earful in a closed-door caucus meeting. But the best anti-Cruz rant of the week came from John Podhoretz -- not generally known for being "squishy" or anything short of rabidly conservative. Podhoretz accurately sums up Ted Cruz as forcing the Republican party to "look silly at best and crazy at worst." He had much more to say on the subject, as well, including calling the Cruzians "blind fools." More on this in a bit.

Think "blind fools" is too strong a term? I don't. Here's Republican House member Marlin Stutzman from Indiana, helpfully explaining what the GOP overall strategy is: "We're not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is." Got that? They have no clue what their fallback position will be. Blind fools indeed.

Over in the mainstream media, the New York Times came up with a fantastic new term that everyone should really start using immediately: "banana Republicans." It's pretty self-explanatory, don't you think? Works for me.

All throughout the week, the number of House Republicans who were publicly calling for a clean budget bill rose, and now stands between 20 and 24 members (depending on which list you use). What this means is that a clear majority of the House of Representatives (you know, like the Constitution says) are now on public record that they'd vote for a clean bill. Boehner still is refusing this route, but Nancy Pelosi is apparently trying to force Boehner's hand with a parliamentary maneuver.

If Pelosi can get enough signatures on a demand to vote on a clean continuing resolution bill -- a process the wonkier call a "discharge petition" -- then Boehner will have no choice but to let the House vote. This is a tricky maneuver, however, with lots of arcane rules. But Democrats now have a plan to work within these rules to force a vote. It may work, it may not -- but if Pelosi has a demand for a vote signed by over half the House to wave around, it will certainly change the politics of the situation for the better, that's for sure. It may be hard to get Republicans to actually sign such a piece of paper, but we'll see -- it's the best move Democrats can make right now, no matter what happens.

And finally, before we get on with the awards and the talking points, comes the news that there will be an ad during a football game this weekend targeting John Boehner in his own district. The ad's concept is sheer brilliance: John Boehner is having a tantrum, just like all babies do. Couldn't have framed it better myself. Well done indeed! Now that's the way to frame things, folks.


Two political moves in the midst of the shutdown deserve special mention this week, before we get on to the main award. The first is a group of Democrats, backed by Nancy Pelosi, who got tired of waiting on the Republican stall tactics, and just went ahead and introduced a House version of comprehensive immigration reform. This was in the background this week, but will likely become a much bigger story later in the year, when pressure rises on Republicans to allow a vote on the House floor. Honorable Mentions all around, for every Democrat involved in this effort.

The second is an issue which I've brought up again and again and again, all the way back to 2007. It's an idea which has worked wonders in California (after being passed as a referendum by the voters). It's a simple concept: if a budget is not in place on time, then lawmakers don't get paid. No budget? No pay. Easy!

So we've got to give at least an Honorable Mention this week to Representative Rick Nolan, for making a big push on his "No Government -- No Pay Act." In politics, you strike while the iron is hot. The time for passing such an idea is indeed right now, when the public is angry at Congress. I've moved on to suggesting that this should be introduced as a full-on constitutional amendment, myself, but have to salute Nolan for trying to get it passed as a law for now. The politics are perfect -- who in their right mind would be against such a concept? Well, besides a few clueless Republicans (more on them in the talking points), of course.

The public can even get in on the action themselves, as MoveOn has a new petition up demanding the "no budget, no pay" concept. It's up to just under 350,000 signatures, as of this writing.

But the winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, for a second straight week, is none other than President Barack Obama. Not only has he held firm on his "no negotiating over Congress doing its basic job" stance, but he has been using the bully pulpit to great effect all week long.

Obama's resolve not to cave in to Tea Party demands is shocking a lot of people. It certainly shocked the House Republicans, that's for sure. Even more shocked were a whole lot of people from the Left who had completely given up on Obama's negotiating skills. Even now there is a defeatist undertone to some comments, as some Lefties refuse to believe that what is happening before their own eyes is actually happening. "Obama will cave," they cynically say, "he always does."

Well, so far, he hasn't. And his line in the sand still looks pretty firm to me. He hasn't budged an inch, because he knows he is in the right. He is now fully aware of the fact that there are some people you just can't bargain with, and that one of those people is John Boehner. Boehner has shown, over and over, in negotiations with the White House, that he is absolutely incapable of delivering on his promises -- because the Tea Party faction of his party refuses to be led by him.

So, this time, Obama's not even bothering with the pointlessness of striking any sort of deal, only to see Boehner unable to deliver the votes.

Barack Obama is under just as much pressure as Boehner. But if insider reports are to be believed, he knows he's fighting for a bigger principle this time around -- the real power struggle between the executive and legislative branches. And he is determined not to give in to ransom demands.

Obama is also not being shy about naming who is responsible. No politicianese about "the opposition" or "some in Congress" -- he's accurately pointing the finger at the Republicans in the House who are attempting to hold the American economy ransom. His comments all week long (read some of the recent transcripts, if you've missed them) have been pointed, well-framed, and absolutely accurate.

So for both standing up for the concept of "no negotiating with hostage-takers" and for using the bully pulpit exceedingly well to unequivocally communicate his position to the public, Barack Obama is this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week winner, once again.

[Congratulate President Barack Obama on the White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


You know what? There weren't any.

Democrats have been showing remarkable unity for the past few weeks, holding just as firm as the president. Because of this amazingly strong front they're displaying to the public, we just didn't see any Democrat who rose (sank, more like it) to the level of the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

If you have suggestions for anyone we've missed, as always, feel free to propose names in the comments.


Volume 276 (10/4/13)

As has been true for the past few weeks, the strongest and most vicious comments against Republicans are coming from within their own ranks. Here's a chunk of what John Podhoretz wrote in the article mentioned earlier, for example:

That's what has happened with segments of the Right this year; they have blinded themselves. And since they've fashioned themselves leaders of others, in their blindness they have marched themselves and their followers off a cliff.

It gives me no pleasure to say this. I am no less an opponent of ObamaCare than those who have raged against it. I've written thousands of words against it and (in a magazine I edit) published tens of thousands of words dismantling it. I enjoy hearing arguments against it made as fluently as Sen. Ted Cruz made them last week in his pointless pseudo-filibuster.

But what these blind fools have done is make the case against ObamaCare more difficult to advance. They've made it less likely that ObamaCare will eventually be revoked and replaced. In seeking to extirpate the president's signature piece of legislation, they've played into the president's hands and weakened their own.

And they've done so, moreover, while insisting that people who warned them against this idiocy were sellouts and weaklings.

That's what Republicans are saying about their fellow Republicans, mind you. So Democrats don't even really need to jump on this dogpile all that much, as the real crushing blows are coming from Republicans themselves.

Earlier this week, I wrote an article which was really nothing more than a chain of talking points strung together, with the suggestion that Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and President Obama should start using them as their new bargaining position. I would dearly love to see them do so, but I'm not going to repeat them today, so if you're looking for constructive ideas on how Democrats should be getting ready for the next round of this fight, I would direct you to this Wednesday's column.

Instead, there are a few political things Democrats should be saying, from the sidelines. Because the longer the shutdown goes on, the more it becomes a media battle for public opinion. So here are a few things Democrats either said or should be saying about the shutdown.


   One faction of one party

We've got to start this off with the best Obama quote of the week, in terms of framing things correctly. The first sentence is remarkable, to be sure, but there's also the "Republican shutdown" phrasing as well as the "ransom" framing. I almost decided to highlight nothing but Obama quotes for all the talking points this week, and there certainly were a lot of great ones to choose from, but this one sums the entire situation up best. This is from Obama's comments on the day the shutdown began:

One faction, of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government, shut down major parts of the government -- all because they didn't like one law. This Republican shutdown did not have to happen. But I want every American to understand why it did happen. Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to fund the government unless we defunded or dismantled the Affordable Care Act. They've shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans. In other words, they demanded ransom just for doing their job.


   We should pay them

Both sides of the divide held their breath this week, wondering if the disturbed individual responsible for a lockdown would be used against them ideologically, somehow. Thankfully, this has not come to pass for either side. Instead, Dick Durbin focused on the fact that the police officers protecting Congress during the scare were not currently being paid. Speaking of the Capitol Police, Durbin said (in what is quite possibly the shortest talking point we've ever used):

They were doing their duty -- and we should pay them for it.


   Majorities want shutdown ended

The first polling numbers on the shutdown are in, and they aren't pretty (for Republicans). More and more polls will likely be released in the next few days, so just update the numbers as needed.

"I see in the new CBS poll just released that 72 percent of Americans disapprove of the shutdown. Even among Republicans polled, more disapprove of the shutdown than approve. The public is blaming Republicans for this shutdown, as they should. I expect as time goes on more and more of the public will be placing the blame squarely at the feet of those responsible -- the Tea Party Republicans in the House who are more interested in political stunts than doing their jobs. Republicans love to talk about how they're standing up for, quote, the American people, unquote -- but the numbers show the American people are actually disgusted with them for shutting the government down. Maybe they're getting their polling numbers from the same folks who guaranteed Romney was going to win, I don't know -- for the reality-based, however, the polls are clear on what the American people actually want."


   No budget, no pay!

I think I've already introduced this one, earlier.

"You know what I think Congress should do? I think they should pass a law -- or a constitutional amendment, even -- which dictates that if the budget isn't in place on time, then they don't get paid. A 'no budget, no pay' law was passed in California a few years back, and since then the budgets are not months late -- they appear on time. The law works, and it works wonderfully. We can do this at the national level. If Congress doesn't do its basic job, it should not get paid. Period. While such Republicans as Mike Lee originally said they would indeed be pocketing their paycheck during the shutdown, I see he has now reversed himself because he learned how politically powerful an issue this truly is. However, there are still Republicans who are clueless enough to insist that they're doing a heckuva job and deserve every penny. This needs to end. No budget? No pay!"


   Hastert disavows eponymous rule

This didn't get nearly the press it should have.

"Even former Speaker of the House Denny Hastert is now saying that the so-called 'Hastert Rule' was never in full force, back when he led the chamber. Hastert now says that the 'Hastert Rule,' and I quote, never really existed. He went on to say: 'The real Hastert Rule is 218... if we had to work with Democrats, we did.' Of course, 218 is the number of votes in a majority of the House. John Boehner should really pick up the phone and talk to Hastert, because his adherence to the Hastert Rule is the only thing stopping us from ending the Republican shutdown in about fifteen minutes' time."


   Liquid courage

Another story that didn't get nearly enough attention.

"Many -- including sitting Congressmen -- have pointed out that on the fateful night when the shutdown was created, House Republicans were odiferously full of what can only be called 'liquid courage.' The reek of booze wafting off of those who shut down the federal government was so strong it was noted by many. Maybe they were setting up some sort of 'diminished capacity' defense for later on -- you know: 'I'm sorry, Your Honor, but I was drunk when I cast that vote.' Maybe all we need to do to resolve the shutdown is to shut down all the bars within a mile of Capitol Hill, eh?"


   Designate Republicans as a terrorist organization

Unfortunately, the site is currently down due to the shutdown, so we've had to link to a news story instead of pointing you to the petition itself.

"There is now a new petition up on the White House's public web page calling on the United States government to designate the Republican Party as a terrorist organization. While this is obviously just a joke, they do seem to be uncomfortably close to the definition -- an organization hellbent on destroying the American system of government who is also willing to take the full faith and credit of America hostage to further their ideological agenda. We'll see how many people sign this petition, once the government funding is restored, won't we?"


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