WASHINGTON -- It's a political perfect storm: The pairing of a
government shutdown with the rollout of a big chunk of the health
care law is illustrating all sorts of partisan and cultural tensions
that are roiling the United States. Big government vs. small. The
Republican Party's identity crisis. Sharpening political divisions
among Americans. And plenty more.
How big is too big?
Dueling images of the government powering itself down, just as
Americans for the first time are logging on to Obamacare's new
health insurance exchanges, bring into high relief a debate
Americans have been having since the birth of the nation. How much
government do we really need? How much is too much?
The Founding Fathers rejected the tyranny of kings and
apportioned powers among Congress, the states, the executive and the
courts in a balance that Americans of diverse beliefs have argued
over ever since.
Ronald Reagan famously declared government the problem, not the
solution -- then added to its size. Bill Clinton announced the end
of the era of big government -- and pared it back. Barack Obama won
election twice by holding out the promise of an activist government
that could do much more for its citizens.
Now, Republicans have turned Obamacare into a political metaphor
for what they hold out as Washington's heavy hand.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said people in his state are telling
him that if shutting things down "is the only way to stop the
runaway train called the federal government, then we're willing to
Others question whether it's a fair fight. "There are no
Republicans who talk about Obamacare as anything other than
socialized medicine, a government takeover of the health care
system," says Colby College government professor Calvin Mackenzie in
Maine. "Anybody who's studied Obamacare would find that a hard
conclusion to draw."
Sure, there's a huge clash between Republicans and Democrats
unfolding in Washington. But the more interesting struggle is
playing out within the Republican Party, whose Tea Party faction is
forcing even fellow conservatives to tack farther right and making
it harder for Congress to find common ground on all sorts of big
issues, not just the budget.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was reluctant to provoke a
shutdown, but ultimately bowed to pressure from Tea Partiers in his
caucus insistent on linking the fight over Obamacare with financing
Mr. Obama put the blame for Washington's paralysis all on "one
faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of
government." Though an oversimplification, it summed up the roiling
divisions in the Capitol and within the GOP. It laid bare the sense
among Democrats that the Tea Party is not just an opposing force,
but a corrosive one.
There are plenty of Republicans who are fine with a government
shutdown. But others in the GOP worry that the party is heading for
a repeat of the 2012 elections, in which GOP presidential candidate
Mitt Romney and numerous conservative candidates for Congress didn't
have enough appeal with moderates to produce GOP victories.
The health care dilemma
The president accuses GOP critics of Obamacare of trying to keep
people uninsured; Republicans say they're waging a principled fight
against a mammoth government overreach.
At the heart of Obamacare are complicated questions of what kind
of health care Americans are entitled to, how much they should have
to pay and how to rein in the huge share of U. …