Government closure a fiasco for Republicans

WASHINGTON — Thursday’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll hit the Republican Party like a bomb.

It found, as Gallup had, the Republican Party (and, separately, the tea party) at “all-time lows in the history of the poll.” It found Republicans taking more blame for the shutdown than they had in 1995. It found more Americans believing the shutdown is a serious problem than in 1995.

Even worse for the GOP is what the pollsters called “the Boomerang Effect”: Both President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act are more popular than they were a month ago. The health-care law, which detractors call Obamacare, in particular gained seven points.

It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of the GOP’s strategic failure here: the launch of health-care reform has been awful. More than a week after the federal insurance marketplaces opened, most people can’t purchase insurance on the first try. But Republicans have chosen such a wildly unpopular strategy to oppose it that they’ve helped both Obamacare and its author in the polls.

This could have been a week in which Republicans crystallized the case against the health-care law. Instead it’s been a week in which they’ve crystallized the case against themselves.

And for what? In 2011, when Republicans last tried serious hostage taking, they managed to drive down both their numbers and Obama’s numbers. But even if they could manage that now — and while the NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Washington Post/ABC News polls both showed some improvement in Obama’s numbers, an Associated Press poll showed deterioration — this isn’t 2011.

In 2011, Obama was going to be on the ballot against a Republican candidate who wasn’t involved in the mess in Washington. The congressional GOP’s kamikaze mission made sense as a way to aid an outsider challenger like Mitt Romney. But Obama won’t be on any more ballots. Congressional Republicans will be. At this point, it’s not a kamikaze mission. It’s just suicide.

Senior Republicans — who never wanted to be in this mess in the first place — are increasingly desperate to get out. On Thursday, House Republicans floated a six-week delay of the debt ceiling and Senate Republicans floated a proposal that would reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling in return for repeal of the medical-device tax and a handful of other minor concessions.

Democrats didn’t jump at either proposal. Their position is no policy negotiations until the government is reopened and the debt-ceiling is raised and they’re seeing nothing in the polls to change their mind.

The problem for Republicans right now is they still believe they need to get something, anything, in return for funding the government and paying the bills. They promised their base concessions and they feel they need to deliver. But as of yet, they’re still not prepared to give anything up — at least not anything Democrats see as a concession.

The hope was that the pain of the shutdown and the Democrats’ fear of the debt ceiling would give the GOP leverage. But all Democrats are seeing is a disaster for the GOP. And at this point, the GOP is seeing it, too.

Klein is a columnist at The Washington Post. His work focuses on domestic and economic policymaking, as well as the political system. Soltas is a Wonkblog contributor.

Meanwhile

In meetings with lawmakers over two days, President Barack Obama left open the possibility he would sign legislation repealing a medical device tax enacted as part of the health care law. Yet there was no indication he was willing to do so with a default looming and the government partially closed.

The Senate passed legislation instructing the Pentagon to permit military chaplains to conduct worship services. House approval was still needed.

At Obama’s meeting with Senate Republicans, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine laid out a proposal to raise the debt limit until the end of January, reopen the government and take a slice out of the health care law.

House Republicans would raise the debt limit and avoid a default, as part of a framework that could include easing the across-the-board cuts in exchange for reductions that Obama has supported in the past in benefit programs. That plan, too, seeks changes in Obamacare.

Obama has proposed raising the cost of Medicare for better-off seniors, a $50 billion item over a decade. He has also backed higher fees under TRICARE, which provides health care for nearly 10 million active-duty and retired military personnel, retirees, reservists and their families, as well as increases in the cost of retirement benefits for federal workers.

Hopes remained high on Wall Street, where investors sent the Dow Jones industrial average 111 points higher following Thursday’s 323-point surge. Obama met at the White House with small business owners about the impacts they were feeling from the budget battles, and said he hoped to be able to bring them toward a conclusion.

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