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November 04, 2013 9:41 AM Back to the Brink?

By Ed Kilgore

The CW in American politics at the moment is that Republicans are suffering from revulsion at their irresponsible tactics during the late government shutdown and near debt default, while Democrats are suffering from the incompetent rollout of the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange enrollment process. The same CW holds that Republicans now understand that trying to “defund Obamacare” was a mistake that actually detracted attention from Obamacare’s problems. So Obamacare won’t be an issue during the budget negotiations set to conclude by December, or in the days before the current CR expires on January 15, right?

I don’t know about that. The argument behind the “defund Obamacare” crusade wasn’t just that it was a smart or feasible strategy for achieving what Republicans could not otherwise achieve. It was that Republicans were complicit in absolute evil if they voted for any appropriations that helped implement this socialistic baby-killing law, which would (this became the money quote throughout) “destroy America” or at least “destroy America’s economy.”

So as the days go by will the same people who brought us the last government shutdown and debt default threat be able to control their excitement over the unhappiness of the small but naturally very visible group of Americans who face higher premiums in the individual insurance market for policies they don’t necessarily want, but make too much money to qualify for subsidies? Will they be able to close their ears when red-state Democratic senators talk about perhaps delaying the individual mandate, and say “this is your problem.” And will enough of them in the House be able to vote for appropriations that don’t include some at least token whack at HHS funds needed more than every for Obamacare implementation?

I don’t know for sure, but I don’t think so. Here’s Brian Beutler’s succinct take on how the budget negotiations are expected to proceed:

For the next five weeks, House and Senate negotiators will try to convene around a viable budget for the rest of the fiscal year. The “grand bargain” President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner twice pursued probably won’t be struck. But it’s easy enough to imagine Democrats and Republicans agreeing to cut some non-entitlement spending (farm subsidies, perhaps), raise some non-tax revenues (user fees and sales, for instance) and ply the savings into the discretionary budget. Pay down sequestration for a year or two and send agreeable allocations to congressional appropriators.

Does anyone really think this sort of deal will go down without at least a raid on the HHS funds needed to get Obamacare out of the ditch and back on schedule? And will that raid, which will excite the conservative “base” beyond endurance, really be swatted down without some GOP budget brinkmanship? That’s really hard to image.

So I wouldn’t just assume the “defund Obamacare” battle is over. It may just morph into a new form as conservatives demand that their party come to the “rescue” of people suffering from the new law. Just wait and see.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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