The Corner

Myths of the Obamacare Shutdown Soap Opera

There are a number of misperceptions of the internecine dispute taking place among conservatives, and within the Republican Party, around the effort by some to use the continuing resolution and the possibility of a government shutdown, to attempt to defund Obamacare.

Myth #1: The debate pits the conservative movement against the Republican congressional leadership. Some of the coverage of the debate states or implies, incorrectly, that conservatives are united behind the shutdown strategy, and GOP leaders like John Boehner are the locus of opposition.

This is inaccurate. Plenty of GOP representatives and senators whose voting records are unquestionably conservative, such as Paul Ryan and Tom Coburn, have criticized the strategy. There are dozens of anti-Obamacare activists who have gone on the record supporting a one-year delay in the law’s implementation as an alternative to the defund approach. While it is possible to support “all of the above,” I know firsthand that many, if not most, supporters of the delay strategy prefer it to the defund approach. Americans for Tax Reform is perhaps the most significant conservative activist group that has taken this position publicly.

Myth #2: Shutdown skeptics are confused about Ted Cruz’s recent comments that appeared to give up on the possibility of passing the defund CR in the Senate. Cruz never said his approach would work, says Rich below.

However, as Rich subsequently notes, Cruz went out of his way to question the motives of those who publicly expressed skepticism that his strategy would work. He called them members of a “surrender caucus” and derided them as politics-as-usual establishment quislings.

As far as I know, Cruz has not reached out to a single Democrat in the Senate in attempt to cobble together the 60 votes necessary to defund Obamacare in that body. He and his supporters have instead trained their fire on Republicans who argue that his strategy won’t work.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC with ties to Heritage President Jim DeMint, has raised and spent considerable money to run several ads against Republican senators McConnell, Flake, Cochran, Burr, Isakson, and Graham, attacking them for expressing skepticism about the defund strategy. SCF has not run a single ad on the topic criticizing Democrats.

Myth #3: The outrage expressed by House conservatives is surprising.

There are a lot of conservatives in Washington and across the country who have worked hard to oppose Obamacare. Most of them have set small disagreements aside, when they’ve cropped up, in order to focus on the larger goal that unites them.

This episode, uniquely, has not involved such collaborative efforts. There has never been any consensus or unity around the defund approach, right from its initial stages. Numerous prominent anti-Obamacare activists expressed skepticism and outright opposition to the shutdown strategy when it was first disclosed, albeit through private channels. The response from pro-shutdown activists was that they would go ahead anyway.

The skeptics were unhappy, but have mostly tried to keep their upper lips stiff in order to preserve some semblance of unity. Every time Ted Cruz called them members of a “surrender caucus,” however, or Mike Lee told them they “owned” Obamacare because they hadn’t signed on to the strategy, resentments built up.

When Cruz preemptively conceded that the Senate was unlikely to pass a defunded continuing resolution, but implied that he would resume the “surrender caucus” talk if the House didn’t defund Obamacare a second time, many skeptics had finally had enough.

Avik Roy — Avik Roy is the President of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity (, a non-partisan, non-profit think tank.

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