WASHINGTON -- The make-believe crusade by publicity hound Republicans to somehow stop Obamacare is one of the most cynical political exercises we've seen in many years. And that, my friends, is saying something.
Charlatans are peddling the fantasy that somehow they can prevent the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from becoming what it already is: the law of the land. Congress passed it, President Obama signed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, and many of its provisions are already in force and others will soon take effect.
No matter how contemptuous they may be about Obamacare, opponents have only two viable options: Repeal it or get over it.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the Canadian-American who appears to be running for president, has grabbed headlines and airtime by being the loudest advocate of an alleged third option: Congress could refuse to fund Obamacare, thereby starving it and effectively killing it. This is a ridiculous fantasy, as Cruz, who has brains beneath all that bombast, surely knows.
Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. The idea, if you can call it one, is that Republicans can refuse to pass any funding bill that contains money for implementing Obamacare.
Theoretically, Republicans could pull this off in the House, where they hold the majority. But the chance that a bill stripped of money for the Affordable Care Act could make it through the Senate, where Democrats hold power, is precisely zero. The chance that a House-Senate conference would starve Obamacare to death, while Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., remains the majority leader, is also zero.
And if by some miracle such a bill were to make it to Obama's desk, the chance he would sign it is (BEG ITAL)way(END ITAL) less than zero. To swallow the snake oil that Cruz and some other hard-right conservatives are peddling, you have to believe Obama is willing to nullify the biggest legislative accomplishment of his presidency.
So with the bill vetoed and no authorization to spend money, much of the government would have to shut down.
This gambit damaged the Republican Party back when Newt Gingrich tried it. In today's toxic political climate, with approval ratings for Congress sinking toward the single digits, it could be catastrophic. As things stand, Democrats have an uphill struggle next year to win the 17 House seats they need to regain the majority. If the GOP forces a shutdown, however, Democrats' chances might get better.
The basic elements of Obamacare -- including the mandate that compels individuals to buy health insurance or pay a fine -- originated in conservative think tanks, including the Heritage Foundation. So it is beyond ironic that Heritage -- under its new leader, former Sen. Jim DeMint -- is pushing hard for the defund-Obamacare suicide leap.
DeMint has gone so far as to make a campaign swing through the South and the Midwest, whipping up support among the GOP base. Asked by an audience member in Arkansas why Congress should pass a bill starving Obamacare when everyone knows Obama would never sign it, DeMint replied, "Well, we don't know that, do we."
Come on. We know.
And we also know that painting Obamacare as the end of America as we know it is an effective way for DeMint to rebrand Heritage, moving it away from mainstream Republican orthodoxy into tea party la-la land. Noisemaking and fundraising go hand in hand; this crazy exercise promises to be very bad for the GOP, but it might end up being very good for the Heritage Foundation's coffers.
Similarly, Cruz gets to preen before a national audience and demonstrate the fervor of his opposition to Obama and all that he stands for. "If you have an impasse, you know, one side or the other has to blink," he said recently. "How do we win this fight? Don't blink."
The GOP establishment is blinking like crazy. Trying to defund Obamacare has little support among Republicans in the Senate. "I'm for stopping Obamacare, but shutting down the government will not stop Obamacare," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said recently, demonstrating a grasp of reality.
The Republican majority in the House, though, is ... what's the word? Unpredictable? Uncontrollable? Unhinged? They pay little attention to wise political advice and less attention to their leader, Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. And while they can't lay a glove on Obamacare, they're fully capable of knocking themselves out.
Eugene Robinson is a columnist for The Washington Post Writers Group.