Jonathan Chait summed it up pretty accurately:
Spectacles like this have turned into a regular feature of life in the Republican House. The party leadership draws up a bill that’s far too right-wing to ever become law, but it fails in the House because it isn’t right-wing enough. Sometimes, as with the attempts to repeal Obamacare, the failures don’t matter much, but in other instances the inability to pass legislation poses horrifying dangers. The chaos and dysfunction have set in so deeply that Washington now lurches from crisis to crisis, and once-dull, keep-the-lights-on rituals of government procedure are transformed into white-knuckle dramas that threaten national or even global catastrophe.
The Republican Party has spent 30 years careering ever more deeply into ideological extremism, but one of the novel developments of the Obama years is its embrace of procedural extremism. The Republican fringe has evolved from being politically shrewd proponents of radical policy changes to a gang of saboteurs who would rather stop government from functioning at all. In this sense, their historical precedents are not so much the Gingrich revolutionaries, or even their tea-party selves of a few years ago; the movement is more like the radical left of the sixties, had it occupied a position of power in Congress. And so the terms we traditionally use to scold bad Congresses—partisanship, obstruction, gridlock—don’t come close to describing this situation. The hard right’s extremism has bent back upon itself, leaving an inscrutable void of paranoia and formless rage and twisting the Republican Party into a band of anarchists.[snip]
The rational way to view these events is that Republicans have marginalized themselves. But the hard-liners see it differently. In their minds, every bill that passes is a betrayal by their leaders. They know that letting Democrats carry bills through the House has been the leadership’s desperate recourse to avoid total chaos, and since chaos is their leverage, they are now working feverishly to seal off that escape route. This year, an increasing proportion of conservative media is given over to conservative activists’ extracting pledges from Republican leaders not to negotiate with Democrats. In the wake of the tax-cut deal, Republican leaders in both houses had to pledge that they would not engage in any—to quote the ubiquitous buzzword—“backroom deals.” Since all deals get made in back rooms (there is no such thing as a front room, and leaders in Western cultures like the United States habitually transact their business in rooms), this means no negotiation at all.
The Republicans in Congress are fully prepared to engage in any and every extreme tactic they can imagine. Their goal is simple: sabotage government.
While Greg Sargent and I talk about “sabotage governing” quite a bit, it’s easy to lose sight sometimes of just how sweeping the GOP efforts to impair the federal health care law really are. We’ve never seen anything like this — it is literally without precedent — and for millions of Americans, very little matters more.[snip]
Again, don’t forget that this has simply never happened before. There is no precedent in American history for Congress approving a massive new public benefit, a president signing it into law, the Supreme Court endorsing the benefit’s legality, and then having an entire political party actively and shamelessly working to sabotage the law.
The Republican party has quite simply lost its collective mind. Mike Lee’s threat to shut down the government unless the ACA is defunded is quite simply beyond the pale.
Paul Waldman offered his take:
What we have here is something truly unprecedented: an opposition party not just insisting that a significant government program was a bad idea, not even just hoping that in its implementation it doesn’t work, but committing itself to actively working to make sure the program fails and that as much human misery as possible can be created along the way, so that eventual repeal of the program will become possible.
The Obama administration is facing a huge administrative task, laid on top of which is a challenging political problem. Try to imagine a government trying to build a new bridge, while all throughout their political opponents were not only telling people they’d die if they drove across it, but going out to throw rocks at the construction workers.
The Republican anti-government gospel has evolved from a desire to limit government to a desire to destroy it. Obamacare has become the focus of Republican and conservative ire. For all its weaknesses, the ACA represents a very real attempt to reform our dysfunctional health care system and as we’re seeing California and New York, the various interlocking parts of the bill look like they’re going to actually work where they’re successfully implemented. Which explains why Republicans are now threatening to defund the program in exchange for not shutting down the government; they lost the political battle to stop it in in 2009 and 2010 – although their truly shockingly dishonest tactics remain, to my mind, a low point in American political history. Then they lost the legal battle. Now, theyr’e using the only tool they have left to fight the Affordable Care Act.
The Republicans may be embracing these tactics out of desparation. Their base is angry to the point of derangement:
At a time when major elements of the GOP’s conservative “base” are already convinced—because they hear it constantly from conservative media gabbers—that the only thing standing in the way of total victory for The Cause is the weakness of GOP lawmakers, the “kill Obamacare or shut down the government” war cry could quickly get way out of hand. It doesn’t help that so many conservatives continue to believe, notwithstanding all the evidence to the contrary, that a government shutdown would show Americans how little they actually miss Big Government.
If Mitch McConnell and John Boehner don’t like the idea, they’d better come up with an alternative strategy for dealing with the autumn fiscal “crisis” and give it some momentum. Otherwise the thrill of imagining themselves denying government-enabled health insurance to 25 or 30 million people could so excite conservative activists that there will be no stopping them.
All of which adds up to a huge problem for America. A government shut down would be a complete fiasco. Politically, it could be suicidal for Republicans; suddenly, Republicans would have nothing left to lose. It would make the last year look like child’s play.