Tea Party “Minority” Does Not Guide Republicans’ Shutdown Strategy

Whatever Democrats claim, most Republicans actually support the demands that led to a shutdown.

Republican speaker John Boehner swears in new members of the House of Representatives in Washington DC, January 3
Republican speaker John Boehner swears in new members of the House of Representatives in Washington DC, January 3 (Bryant Avondoglio)

Four days into the first government shutdown in almost two decades, Barack Obama’s Democrats have worked hard to portray opposition Republicans as held hostage by an ideologically purist minority that might even be willing to block raising the United States’ debt limit later this month if they don’t get their way on suspending the president’s health reforms.

Nancy Pelosi, the Democrats’ leader in the House of Representatives, spoke of a “Tea Party shutdown” on Tuesday and urged Republicans in an interview on Friday to “take back” their party from hardliners who “don’t believe in a government role” at all.

President Obama alleged on Thursday that House speaker John Boehner was reluctant to compromise because “he doesn’t want to anger the extremists in his party.”

Senate leader Harry Reid even called his Republican counterpart a “coward.”

The reality, according to the Reuters news agency, is that Republican support for the tactic that led to the shutdown is solid and widespread.

“That is because the far right, after the 2010 and 2012 congressional elections, is not a small segment at all,” it reports, “it represents probably 69 percent of the House Republican caucus.”

Members who were endorsed by Tea Party organizations — the populist conservative movement that emerged in 2009 in opposition to the president’s health-care and spending plans — now make up a third of the Republican caucus in the lower chamber of Congress. Another 160 members get high ratings from the Club for Growth, a small-government lobbying group that also advocates repeal of what Republicans call “Obamacare.”

“Nothing these radical Tea Party conservatives are proposing is not part of the Republican Party platform,” said Chris Chocola, the group’s president.

While more centrist Republicans, including New York’s Peter King and probably Boehner as well, resisted efforts from Senate Tea Party members to demand the repeal of Obamacare as a condition for supporting a budget — which could have staved off the shutdown — few have been critical of the party’s most recent demands: a one year delay in the implementation of the health-care overhaul’s individual mandate, which compels Americans to buy insurance or pay a fine, and the repeal of a 2.3 percent medical devices tax which quite a number of Democrats are critical of as well.

Delaying the mandate seems a reasonable offer, especially after the Obama Administration unilaterally delayed a similar employers mandate which will force business with fifty or more full-time employees to buy health insurance for all their staff starting in 2015. But it could undermine the whole program.

The mandate is supposed to offset another key reform which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage to Americans with “preexisting” medical conditions. If insurers are forced to take on new customers who will likely need health care but healthy Americans don’t sign up, they will have to raise premiums — between 15 and 20 percent, according to the leftist Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Higher premiums could then discourage healthy Americans from enrolling next year, especially when the fine for not getting insurance is just $95 per person or 1 percent of a family’s income (whichever is greater), driving up premiums year after year until opposition to Obamacare, already at 49 percent, according to Gallup, becomes so strong, Republicans win enough support to undo it altogether.

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