Senate Republicans are threatening to block any bill that continues funding for government operations if it also includes money for the 2010 Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare. "This is the last stop before Obamacare fully kicks in on Jan. 1 of next year for us to refuse to fund it," Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said this week.
But other Republicans aren't on board: Sen. John McCain, the party's 2008 presidential nominee, said the public is tiring of continuing threats to shut down the government. "Most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans," he said.
Should the GOP carry out its threat? How should Democrats respond? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.
JOEL MATHIS: In January 1973, the magazine National Lampoon appeared on newsstands, its cover image one of the most striking in all of publishing history: A dog filled most of the frame, a revolver held against its head by an otherwise-unseen man off-camera. "If you don't buy this magazine," the cover text blared, "we'll kill this dog."
Forty years later that cover pretty much sums up the governing philosophy of the Republican Party. Its leaders don't have much to sell the public except one hostage situation after another. "If you don't pass our agenda," they blare, "we'll kill this government."
When Obamacare was passed, Republicans complained mightily that it didn't pass democratically enough. Yes, the bill received a majority of support in both the House and the Senate, and yes, it was signed into law by the president - and then, after all of that, it was found Constitutional by a majority of the Supreme Court. Never mind, some in the GOP said: The bill didn't get any Republican votes - its majority wasn't big enough.
Since then, the GOP has tried - by one count - to kill Obamacare 36 times.
Thirty-six times it has failed. Unable to muster (as legislation must) the majority backing of both houses of Congress, never mind securing the support of the president. The Republican Party cannot achieve its aims using the democratic processes it claims were neglected during the passage of Obamacare.
So the GOP is going to take everybody's ball and go home.
It's almost beyond criticism. Republicans - House Republicans in particular - have convinced themselves that any compromise with the Obama agenda is untenable and must be defeated no matter the cost, never mind that the president has twice been elected with the support of large majorities of the electorate. They act accordingly.
All you can do is marvel. And hope, if you're a Democrat, that when your party returns to minority status - as it inevitably will, because that's how history works - that its leaders have watched, learned, and are as willing to obstruct future Republican agendas. There is no tactic too unfair to be used anymore; partisans might as well gird for political battle with that understanding in mind.
BEN BOYCHUK: Shutting down the federal government to defund Obamacare presents one of those old-fashioned "good news, bad news" scenarios for conservatives. The good news? As Americans figure out just how awful Obamacare is, support for the unpopular law craters. Just this week, a new CBS News poll found a solid majority of Americans - 54 percent - don't like the law and more of them than ever - 39 percent - would like to see the law repealed.
And for good reason. Millions of people are discovering what the law will mean not just for their lives but their livelihoods. Employers, spooked by the law's mandates, are cutting hours to ensure their workers don't exceed a 29-hour-a-week cap that would trigger expensive insurance benefits.
That's why President Barack Obama unilaterally decided to delay the "employer mandate" provisions of the law until after the 2014 midterm elections. No point in riling up millions of voters who might take out their wrath on Democrats who passed the law. The bad news? As unpopular as Obamacare may be, people regard Congress - especially the Republican-controlled House - with even greater contempt. The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll reports 83 percent of Americans say they disapprove of Congress, suggesting some legislators would struggle to win votes from members of their immediate families at this point.
Defunding programs and even certain government jobs is well within Congress's power. Republicans are well practiced at the art of depriving liberal causes of tax dollars. (Remember ACORN?) Defunding provisions of the badly misnamed Affordable Care Act would be a worthy effort - if Republicans had solid majorities in both houses of Congress. Sadly, they do not.
How did we come to this pretty pass? The president and Congress for years have been unwilling and unable to pass a real budget. So they've settled for passing "continuing resolutions" that keep the government running. Every time one of these resolutions comes up for a vote, we have one of these showdowns. Somebody always threatens to shut down the government. Somebody always blinks.
Shutting down the government to kill Obamacare might be worth the risk if Republicans didn't blink. Fortune favors the bold - and boldness is not a virtue rewarded in politics.
Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal. Joel Mathis is a contributing editor to The Philly Post. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or www.facebook.com/benandjoel.