The Republicans are calling each other names in a raging internecine battle over how best to blow up Obamacare and put consumers and small businesses at the mercy of the insurance companies. In an unusual week when the Republicans are at each other's throats, they're still on the same side in the fight that matters: They're for the insurance industry, not us.
The Republican debate is about whether it's a bad idea to shut down the government and disrupt the economy unless Democrats agree to defund the Affordable Care Act (ACA). This isn't legitimate legislative dealmaking -- it's extortion.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) said forcing an entire government to shut down over Obamacare is a "bridge too far." Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls the idea "silly." Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) called it the "dumbest idea" he's ever heard. Burr even conceded that when the fight ends and the government re-opens, "Barack Obama is [still] going to be president." But upstart GOP senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas are slinging insults at these senators and accusing them of being political lightweights and cowards for accepting the world as it is.
"What I can tell you is there are a lot of Republicans in Washington who are scared," Cruz said. "They are scared of being beaten up politically." This tough talk comes from a guy who didn't come to Washington for any other reason than to stoke the tea party wing of the GOP and advance his own political goals.
The whole fuss started when Cruz and extremist senators Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah persuaded several other Republicans to announce that they will not support continued federal spending after Oct. 1 unless Obamacare is defunded. Fortunately, some senators took some time to think it through and then withdrew their endorsements of the letter.
Obviously, Republican senators like Cruz, Rubio and Lee feel no need to govern responsibly. They seem not to like being outdone by House Republicans, who plan on Friday to vote for the 40th time to repeal the Obamacare. That sets a pretty high bar for pointlessness, and the Senate's Republican hardliners are trying hard to catch up.
The absurd political posturing reflects a pitched battle over GOP tactics, not goals. The Republicans still are unified in their aim to repeal Obamacare and return America to the days when insurance companies could deny our care based on health status, age and gender and jack up our rates at will.
The Republican feud is also partially about presidential politics. You can't win the GOP primary if you're not so far to the right you're essentially against civilization, unless you're a plutocrat like Mitt Romney and can afford to carpet bomb every state with TV commercials. Everyone else is required to be seriously unhinged. To mobilize the GOP faithful in 2016, some conservatives believe, you have to be the real thing -- an extremist politician who's out-of-step with most Americans for the primary and an unabashed "mainstream" conservative for the November election. You certainly can't be a captive of GOP "liberals" like Karl Rove.
The feud certainly is colorful, and it's great fun to be in the audience for the show, but it's just a passing phase. When the Republicans are done calling each other names, they'll work together to enable the insurance industry to inflict the worst consumer abuses on every senior, family and small business.
What the Republicans won't do is devote any energy to collaborating with Democrats on legislation to create jobs and help the economic recovery. After all, what good would it do to make a positive difference in the lives of millions of Americans? That's not why right-wing extremists came to Washington. They've got bigger plans -- for themselves.