On the morning of Oct. 16 - with the federal government shuttered three weeks and just hours away from the first federal default in history - U.S. Sen. Dan Coats was incredulous.
Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham said of Obamacare, “Well, everybody understands that we’ll not be able to repeal this law until 2017. We have to win the Senate and win the White House. Right now it is clear that this bill is not ready for prime time. It is clear the bill is unfair.”
It was Heritage Foundation, headed by former Sen. Jim DeMint, and the Heritage Action PAC that had fanned the flames of the Obamacare defund movement that found ardent disciples in Indiana -- U.S. Reps. Marlin Stutzman, Todd Rokita and Jackie Walorski. On the brink of the vote, Needham had revealed just how cynical, stupid and reckless things had become in Washington.
Coats heard that and thought, ‘We went through all of this for him to say that?’”
There were plenty of people who saw the defund movement take shape and knew that the math was not there. With President Barack Obama in the White House and Democrats controlling the Senate 55-45 after Republicans had booted away a Senate seat in Indiana and five other states, there was never a scenario for it to work.
Last summer, the Indiana congressional delegation met to discuss the scenario. Since Coats became the state's senior senator following Dick Lugar's 2012 primary defeat to Tea Party-inspired Richard Mourdock, he has gathered the delegation together to coordinate on state matters and talk through issues.
Asked to describe the Indiana delegation meetings as the defund effort gathered steam, Coats explained, “There was good communication. Obviously we didn’t come out as one vote in the end. I respect people’s difference of opinion because it was a complicated issue.”
Coats described delegation members who viewed the scenario through different lenses. “Some were looking at it from the default standpoint, raising the debt limit, and some were looking at it from a shutdown standpoint,” Coats said.
Stutzman, a close ally of DeMint, was an early advocate of the defund effort in mid-summer, and congressional staff sources tell me he addressed the delegation on his stance, though he declined to comment.
Coats explained, "We talked about this in July. I didn’t think the shutdown would work. I didn’t see the president bending, or Democrats in the Senate coming our way. The bottom line was those who thought the shutdown was the best strategy were able to test it. And it didn’t produce the results. So, I think what was unfortunate about the whole thing, the (Ted) Cruz strategy – which was really developed by Jim DeMint – has become the face of that. But it is the lobby group that has designed the strategy and enforces it through various means.”
In 1988-89, when Health and Human Services Secretary Doc Bowen’s catastrophic health care law was signed by President Ronald Reagan, public opinion shifted, and with President George H.W. Bush in office, Congress repealed the law. Coats observed Bush “had no stake” in the Bowen law.
That was the not the case with Obama, who for the next three years will defend Obamacare. “That’s the huge difference between Obama and Bush,” Coats said. “That’s what is so different with this situation. No one gave any kind of realistic assessment where the president would say, ‘Oh yeah, that was a terrible mistake. Give me my pen so I can sign this.’ That’s why the math just doesn’t add up because it would take 21 Democrats to override a presidential veto.”
“The goal was to try and convince Democrats of the inadequacy of this legislation,” Coats said, but the effort turned its guns on Republicans. On the day of Needham's admission, Heritage Action announced it would score the vote any way.
Coats observed 95 percent of Obamacare funding is mandatory, and only a mere 5 percent was covered in the continuing resolution.
It truly was a fool's errand.
While Reps. Walorski, Stutzman, Rokita, Larry Bucshon and Luke Messer voted against the bill that reopened the government and prevented default, Coats and Reps. Susan Brooks and Todd Young voted yea.
Coats is taking heat. He walked through a conversation he had with a constituent who advocated shutdown. “How long do you think we’ll have to shut down?” Coats asked.
The response was, "Well, it didn’t have enough time.”
Well, how much time would be needed? He heard, “As long as it takes.”
What if it takes a year? Again, the response was, “As long as it takes.”
But Obama will be in office another three years.
Coats heard this response: “If that’s what it takes, that’s what we should do.”
“And that is something I just couldn’t accept,” Coats said. “This society cannot function with the government closed for three years.”
This all brings to mind Russian author Leo Tolstoy, who studied the movement of the masses that can lead to upheaval and even revolution, sometimes quite suddenly.
As he observed in “Anna Karenina,” there is “not only the pride of intellect, but the stupidity of intellect, and, above all, the dishonesty, yes, the dishonesty of intellect. Yes, indeed, the dishonesty and trickery of intellect.”