A ruinous opportunity
When Dwight Eisenhower asked Gen. Georgy Zhukov how the Red Army cleared minefields, Zhukov replied that it marched through them. Being profligate with lives is a perquisite of command and a luxury of those with an abundance of lives at their command. Some congressional Republicans, who do not command their party but can implicate it in their marches through minefields, might resuscitate Barack Obama's presidency by restocking his pantry of excuses: The economy's continuing anemia will ever after be blamed on any government shutdown.
The face of this Republican faction is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who recently exhorted conservatives to somehow force Obama to accept defunding of the Affordable Care Act. Cruz explained:
On Jan. 1, the ACA's insurance subsidies begin. The Obama administration knows that no major entitlement, once tasted, has been repealed. The administration is uninterested in enforcing the subsidies' eligibility requirements. Hence Republicans must be prepared to shutter the government. Obama will be blamed for resulting inconveniences because he will have vetoed funding for everything rather than accepting denial of funding for one thing — the ACA.
Well. Those people who are best at deceiving others first deceive themselves.
If the ACA is as unpleasant in potential effects as it is impossible to implement, conservatives should allow what Lincoln called “the silent artillery of time” to destroy it. Obama has not noticed that many objects of his rhetorical support — the ACA; scores of Democrat candidates; his gun-control agenda; his plan to attack Syria — have not become popular.
The government should not be closed; the debt ceiling will be raised. Republicans should, however, take to heart the last words of H.L. Mencken's summation of Theodore Roosevelt: “Well, one does what one can.” Republicans can give Democrats a ruinous opportunity to insist upon unpopular things. House Republicans can attach to the continuing resolution that funds the government, and then to the increase in the debt ceiling, two provisions: preservation of the ACA requirement that members of Congress and their staffs experience the full enjoyment of the ACA without special ameliorating subsidies and a one-year delay of the ACA's individual mandate.
By vetoing legislation because of these provisions, and by having his vetoes sustained by congressional Democrats, Obama will underscore Democrats' devotion: devotion to self-dealing by the political class and to the principle that only powerful interests (businesses), not mere citizens, can delay the privilege of complying with the ACA.
Arithmetic, not moral failings, makes Republicans unable to overturn Obama's vetoes. So after scoring some points, Republicans should vote, more in sorrow than in anger, to fund the government (at sequester levels, a significant victory) and to increase the debt ceiling. Having forced Democrats to dramatize their perverse priorities, Republicans can turn to completing the neutering of this presidency by winning six Senate seats.
Republicans now making a moral melodrama over any vote that allows the ACA to be funded should remember Everett Dirksen of Illinois. The leader of Senate Republicans during passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act recalled, “Forty preachers caught me one afternoon there in that lobby. ‘I am not a moralist,' I told them, ‘I am a legislator.'” It is good to be both; it is sterile to be the former to the exclusion of the latter.
George F. Will is a columnist for The Washington Post and Newsweek.