Obamacare Repeal Won't Happen, But the GOP Will Hold America Hostage Over It Anyway

According to internal sources, the House GOP is settling on this year's strategy for combating the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and — surprise! — it's the same strategy that's failed before: the debt ceiling.

However, if nothing else has changed, we are forced to understand another round of debt ceiling negotiations under a different light. As Republicans tear themselves apart over everything from immigration to Edward Snowden, the crusade against the ACA grows increasingly important and inversely proportional to its chances of success. At this point, it is nothing more than the sole intra-party strategy holding together the GOP, an increasingly fragmented caucus that can agree on only one thing: repealing Obamacare.

Many of this summer's internal conversations revolved around choosing the right strategy to do just that. Firebrand Republicans wanted to reach for the nearest hostage at hand, which was the continuing resolutions that fund the federal government. Although in theory the federal government is supposed to be funded through annual budgets passed by Congress, no consensus has existed to enact a budget for the past couple of years, leaving the legal authority to separate "continuing resolutions" the House uses to fund the government for mere months at a time. The right wing of the GOP wanted to tie the next continuing resolution to repealing Obamacare, vowing to force Washington into a "shutdown" this September unless the law was defunded.

Boehner and Cantor spent the remaining hours of before the August recess shutting down the shutdown. Right-wing members of the party, inspired by Tea Party firebrands like Ted Cruz, wanted to fight Obamacare then and there. But more moderate voices, many of whom remembered the Gingrich wars of the 1990s, were loath to enter another ideological budget battle with such little chances of success. Boehner managed to please both wings of the party — for now — largely by deciding not to hold the federal government's funding hostage now (which pleased moderates) only to hold the entire financial system hostage later (pleasing the Tea Party). He paid for intra-party unity by writing a pretty big check, with the caveat that the Tea Party not cash it in until November. Who knows, maybe by then a meteor will hit Earth or something.

Everything you will see in Congress over the next few months will be laying the ground for this debt ceiling fight. The country, most of whom is very familiar by now with the arguments and respective sources of leverage, will be treated to another Great American Trilogy, except this time the GOP goal is not to reduce spending (which led in 2011 to the sequestration compromise) but to repeal Obama's landmark legislative achievement. After November, some sort of compromise will be met, or maybe Obama will take the plunge and mint a trillion-dollar platinum coin. In either case, Boehner will have held the House GOP together, which is all that really matters.