Forget Boehner. Jim DeMint is Congressional Republicans' Shadow SpeakerSubmitted by RandWatcher on Sat, 09/28/2013 - 13:19
By Joshua Green . September 26, 2013 . Bloomberg
When Congress adjourned for its August recess this year, most members avoided the town hall meetings that were once the standard venue for hearing from constituents. They were too afraid. Ever since activists opposed to President Obama’s health-care bill ambushed lawmakers in August 2009, few members are willing to risk a confrontation being immortalized on YouTube — or, worse, Fox News. Trips home are now carefully choreographed affairs that limit spontaneous voter contact.
But neither the anger nor the town hall format has gone away; they’re just under new management. In mid-August, Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who quit the Senate in January to become president of the Heritage Foundation, the conservative Washington think tank, set off on a nine-city Defund Obamacare Town Hall Tour. DeMint, 62, is a courtly, polished Southerner who used to own a marketing business. These days he’s selling the idea that it’s not too late to kill the health-care law. In each city, hundreds and sometimes thousands of true believers crammed into hotel ballrooms to hear him explain how, with enough pressure on legislators, Congress could be persuaded to withhold funding for the law and thereby halt it before public enrollment begins on Oct. 1. “The House holds the purse strings,” DeMint told his crowds. If Republicans keep them cinched, he promised, the law would fail.
DeMint’s idea was initially dismissed as quixotic. For one thing, the Affordable Care Act is mostly paid for by mandatory funds that can’t be blocked. For another, Democrats control the White House and Senate. Even so, the defund push has caught fire in Washington because activists have made it into a crusade. “We needed someone out there arguing for what is the right thing to do and putting the flag in the right place,” DeMint says over breakfast the morning after he’s addressed 900 people in Columbus, Ohio. “This little effort, with a paltry amount of money, has drawn thousands of people, almost tearfully, to come out in support.”
DeMint assumes that Republicans have leverage because funding for the federal government will run out on Sept. 30, and if Congress doesn’t pass a continuing resolution to keep the government open, it will shut down the next day. That’s an outcome neither party wants, but one DeMint calculates Obama would do almost anything to avoid—including making concessions on his signature law. So in August, as the defund tour wended its way through the country, DeMint was pitching the idea of a continuing resolution that funds everything except Obamacare. Scores of Republican congressmen and senators signed on, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who joined DeMint onstage in Dallas to endorse the idea. “There is a paradigm shift under way in American politics, which is the rise of the grass roots,” says Cruz, the leading defund promoter in the Senate. “It’s changing the way political decisions are made in Washington.”
Many Republicans looked on in horror as the defund movement gained steam. If the government shuts down, polls suggest blame will fall most heavily on the GOP. North Carolina Senator Richard Burr calls DeMint’s plan “the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard.” Representative Tom Cole, a veteran Oklahoma Republican, has likened the shutdown threat to “putting the gun to your own head. You’re basically saying, do what I want or I’ll shoot.” DeMint doesn’t see why his ploy should hurt Republicans. “Democrats will be shutting down the government to protect Obamacare,” he insists. As DeMint sees it, if Republicans would just toughen up and start singing from the same hymnal, public opinion might swing to their side. And if they won’t, he plans to turn his legions of supporters inside and outside of government against them.
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