Ezra Klein has an interesting piece (Wonkblog) on the collective-action problem facing the GOP with respect to Obamacare. Stated concisely:
Here’s the Republican Party’s problem, in two sentences: It would be a disaster for the party to shut down the government over Obamacare. But it’s good for every individual Republican politician to support shutting down the government over Obamacare.
These smart-for-one, dumb-for-all problems have a name: Collective-action problems.
As Klein correctly notes, ideally, party leadership plays a critical role in managing these problems through the use of various carrots and sticks (“Threats, flattery, fundraising money, and plum committee assignments are all deployed to keep members of Congress from undermining the group in order to help themselves”). But the GOP leadership appears to lack the power to control the behavior of its members, particularly those who are aligned with the Tea Party.
It should prove interesting to watch the collective-action problem unfold in the next few weeks as Congress turns to the continuing resolution and the debt ceiling (not to mention broader issues like immigration reform).
A few additional thoughts:
- The ongoing efforts to defund Obamacare might be useful for some members of Congress who are hoping to signal their ideological purity to voters in their district (and dissuade those who might mount a primary challenge from the right). But if you truly believe that Obamacare is destined to fail, wouldn’t it make greater strategic sense to fund it and let the Democrats accept full ownership for the results?
- The return to the debt ceiling foolishness is unfortunate. The debt ceiling, after all, is an aggregate expression of the taxing and spending decisions made by Congress. Refusing to raise the debt ceiling is similar to an alcoholic refusing to cover his tab at the end of a long bender. The problem, alas, is not the bar tab. If those who oppose increases in the debt ceiling are sincere about fiscal responsibility, they should turn to deeper cuts in spending. Of course, this would force them to address substantial reforms in the defense budget and, more importantly, in entitlements. This would not play well among the “Keep the Government’s hands off my Medicare” crowd.
- Current demographic trends are working against the GOP. The collective action problems exhibited in the de/funding of Obamacare will find an even greater expression in issues like immigration reform. Ironically, members of Congress who are successful in maximizing the vote in their carefully gerrymandered districts may simultaneously accelerate the GOP’s decline into a regional party that can no longer win the White House. They will trade job security for relevance.