Editorial: ‘Reality Check’; Uphill Battle for Common Sense
New Hampshire voters of all political persuasions can feel some sense of gratitude toward Sen. Kelly Ayotte for her outspoken support for returning control of the Republican Party to more responsible hands. In a speech on the Senate floor last week, New Hampshire’s junior senator was highly critical of those willing to shut down the federal government in pursuit of a goal they have no realistic chance of achieving — the defunding of Obamacare.
“It was ill-conceived because ... we knew that with the president in the White House and the Senate Democrats in charge, that they were not going to defund their signature piece of legislation, as much as I support repealing that legislation,” Ayotte said.
Ayotte’s criticism — particularly her suggestion that it was “time for a reality check” — was widely interpreted to be aimed at Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the strongest ally House Tea Party radicals have in the upper chamber. With the shutdown now in its second week and no sign that the deadlock will soon break, many more Republican legislators will have to join the sanity caucus before Cruz and his allies back down.
One would hope that Ayotte would not face such an uphill battle in pursuit of common-sense. That only a minority of House Republicans strongly supports shutting down the government makes it all the more perplexing that those who share Ayotte’s opinion have not prevailed and liberated House Speaker John Boehner from the clutches of the radicals.
It’s easy enough to grasp the behavior of Tea Party House members: They hail from districts that have been gerrymandered to be overwhelmingly Republican, and they will face political punishment only if they are accused of being too moderate. It fails to explain, however, why other Republicans aren’t willing to oppose the minority, as Ayotte has.
Some light was shed this weekend by a New York Times article that traced the origins of this crisis to a strategy session convened not long after Barack Obama was elected to a second term. According to that article, several dozen conservative groups decided to wage all-out war on the Affordable Care Act. Their goal of achieving a quick, unconditional victory was based not just on genuine opposition to Obamacare and not just on the belief that most Americans were opposed to the health reform law, but also out of fear that Obamacare would be impossible to repeal if it ever got established. Shutting down the government was not the purpose of the conservative coalition, but it was something its members were prepared to do in their singleminded crusade.
It hardly comes as a surprise that the coalition — including such organizations as Heritage Action for America, the Club for Growth and Tea Party Patriots — received generous backing from organizations affiliated with Charles and David Koch, the billionaire businessmen who are reliable sources of cash for many right-wing causes. And the money has come in handy not just to whip up popular support against Obamacare but also to intimidate members of Congress who might be regarded as squishy. Heritage Action purchased Internet ads against 100 House members who refused to sign a petition calling on Boehner to defund Obamacare, and the Senate Conservatives Fund took on 25 Republican senators who crossed Cruz and opposed his effort to use a procedural motion to advance the House Republican position.
Republicans’ fear about being targeted by the anti-Obamacare zealots will, we hope, eventually yield to the greater fear about the consequences of a prolonged shutdown and even defaulting on the nation’s obligations. But that’s just a hope. Who would ever have thought it would get this far?