So, after a partial shutdown of the federal government that lasted 16 days, sucked an estimated $24 billion out of the national economy and rattled financial markets worldwide with a mere threat of a default on U.S. government debt, what did Sen. Mike Lee and his friends get for their obstructionist antics?
Not one damn thing.
The scary part is that Lee and friends do not realize that they lost this fight, not only on tactics, but on the merits of their case, and that they plan to try again in a few months.
The "deal" struck by the true if somewhat anemic leadership of both parties in both houses of Congress puts federal spending back at it previous levels, keeps the government going three months and allows the Treasury to do necessary borrowing for four. It also did absolutely nothing to repeal, replace or even slow the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
That last part ought to be particularly embarrassing to Lee and his primary partner in mayhem, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. It was, after all, their stated desire to defund the ACA, aka Obamacare, that started this whole sorry process in the first place. If anything, though, Obamacare emerged from this debacle stronger than ever.
For one thing, coverage of the shutdown and related political maneuvers sucked up all the air in the journalistic universe for the last month, overshadowing the glitch-filled rollout of the ACA's online insurance exchanges. For another, President Obama and his allies have emerged from the fight in a stronger political position than they enjoyed before, with the president and his fellow Democrats even less likely to cave to future attempts at partisan extortion than they were this time.
Obamacare is, to put the kindest possible face on it, a work in progress. It is hard to understand and, until they work out the kinks in the website, harder to buy into. But it is the only serious attempt to extend the kind of affordable health care taken for granted by the residents of civilized nations to millions of Americans who now lack it. As such, it cannot be credibly described, as Lee and his friends do, as an existential threat that is worthy of such scorched-earth politics.
Lee, and the Republicans in Utah's House delegation, should now heed the wisdom of their senior colleague, Sen. Orrin Hatch, who said Monday that the goal of stopping Obamacare from such a weak political position was a fool's errand.
"When Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, we have to understand what is achievable and what is not," Hatch said. "Too many were led to believe we could accomplish something that was never possible – namely defunding ObamaCare through a government shutdown."
Mike Lee's foolish dream was America's nightmare. We should not have to live through it again.