Key "defund" backer: Let's be realistic, we can't repeal ObamaCare until 2017

Via the Corner, it’s Michael Needham of Heritage Action, arguably the single biggest driver of the “defund” effort besides Ted Cruz himself. Question: If repeal is obviously impossible because, after all, Democrats control two-thirds of the lawmaking branches of the government, why wasn’t “defund” also impossible for the same reason? I don’t know. If you’re willing to risk serious political injury to yourself by shutting down the government for weeks to extract a crucially important concession, why lower your ask to “defund” instead of going whole hog for repeal? It’s a matter of not blinking, right?

The answer, I guess, is that “defund” theoretically might have been more appealing to red-state Democrats like Pryor and Begich than the nuclear option of repeal would be. All the defunders were asking for was a year without money for the law, they could argue, not permanent neutralization. Given the problems with, who could be against that? Even if the “defund” caucus had won every conservative Democratic vote, though, they still wouldn’t have had nearly enough to pass a “defund” bill over a filibuster staged by the rest of Reid’s caucus. It would have been a fun, fleeting embarrassment for the White House — “Five Dems cross aisle to oppose money for ObamaCare!” — but then, as the shutdown dragged on, those Democrats would have swung back to Reid in partisan solidarity and in the name of showing voters back home that they wanted the shutdown to end ASAP. Beyond that, it was probably unrealistic to expect any Dem, including highly vulnerable ones like Pryor, to vote for any anti-ObamaCare measure, no matter how small. Pryor may come from a red state but his only chance at holding his seat is heavy Democratic turnout and you can imagine how the true believers on the left in Arkansas would have reacted to him knifing them in the back by joining the “defunders.” In fact, if you believe Begich, one of the theoretically gettable votes for the right, no one in a position of power including Cruz ever personally lobbied him to switch sides on defunding. So if “defund” was more likely than repeal, it was more likely in the sense that an 85-yard field goal is more likely than a 90-yard one.

And now here we are:

There are no policy concessions from the Democrats (income verification is already part of Obamacare). There are no procedural concessions from the Democrats. Just the opposite, in fact.

Democrats managed to get the budget conference they’ve been pursuing for six months. They got a CR of the length they wanted and ending before the next sequestration cuts rather than six-month CR that Sen. Susan Collins proposed. They got a debt-ceiling increase all the way into February. This is far beyond what Democrats thought possible on Sept. 30…

Going forward, not only will Republicans be afraid to shut down the government or threaten the debt ceiling again during this Congress, but if Republicans somehow end up doing it anyway, Democrats will be unafraid of the fight. As Democrats see it, if Republicans want to give a shutdown or a default another shot closer to the 2014 election, well, that’s great news for Democratic congressional candidates.

That’s Ezra Klein, but he’s right about the last part. “Defund” was always about using the shutdown as leverage, not so much the debt ceiling, but after this humiliating rout Boehner and McConnell won’t be willing to play chicken with the debt limit again for a long time, if ever. They might as well raise the ceiling for three or four years instead of three or four months. Their bluff’s been called; they’re clearly unwilling to hit the ceiling — rightly so — so there’s no sense pretending anymore. Essentially, this process convinced Democrats that they’re the ones who’ll win if they just Don’t Blink.

Two thoughts in closing. One: Why did Heritage Action oppose Boehner’s final bill yesterday? The bill was, no doubt, a feeble compromise compared to the lofty ambitions of the “defund” movement, but the only alternative at that point was an even lamer Democratic-written bill in the Senate. By opposing Boehner, Heritage all but guaranteed that he wouldn’t have the votes to pass it, which ensured that Reid would dictate the final terms of the settlement. Where’s the logic in that? Two: Does it matter at all that shutting down the government didn’t prevent the funding of ObamaCare? The only way to achieve that was to pass a “defund” bill, which, per the above, was all but impossible from the start. All the shutdown did was freeze a few discretionary parts of the budget; the key appropriations for O-Care aren’t among those parts. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in hindsight — having the catastrophe start on time and fail epically will do much more to push the White House towards considering delay than the shutdown did. But even that comes with potential bad news: How many low-information voters out there incorrectly believe that it’s the shutdown, not Obama’s and HHS’s incompetence, that’s responsible for the health-care website disaster? Hmmmm.