In an interview with The Washington Post, National Review Washington editor Robert Costa explained how conservative talk radio and Fox News have helped to launch and sustain the ongoing government shutdown.
The federal government is currently shut down after House Republicans refused to pass legislation to fund the government unless that legislation also defunded or delayed the rollout of the Obamacare health reform law. This effort was the culmination of the "Williamsburg Accord," a legislative strategy formulated by the GOP in January 2013 that "took the form of trying to wrest concessions from Obama by provoking a series of crises."
Costa, a writer that Post columnist Ezra Klein explains is "one of the best-sourced reporters among House Republicans," lays out how House Speaker John Boehner has lost leverage with the GOP caucus in the past year. According to Costa, Boehner can't pass a bill that only continues government funding (called a "clean continuing resolution"), which would end the current impasse, because that would "create chaos" thanks largely to "30 or 40 hardliners" in the House.
Asked by Klein whether another Republican could step into Boehner's role and possibly forge a solution, Costa posited that Boehner isn't the hold up. Instead, Costa says, outside groups have created "an atmosphere of fear among the members." And thanks to members living "in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations...the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire":
EZRA KLEIN: How much of this is a Boehner problem and how much of this is a House Republicans problem? Which is to say, if Boehner decided to retire tomorrow, is there another House Republican who has enough trust and allegiance in the conference that he or she could manage the institution more effectively?
ROBERT COSTA: What we're seeing is the collapse of institutional Republican power. It's not so much about Boehner. It's things like the end of earmarks. They move away from Tom DeLay and they think they're improving the House, but now they have nothing to offer their members. The outside groups don't always move votes directly but they create an atmosphere of fear among the members. And so many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn't exist in a normal environment.
Support for a shutdown and the protracted fight over defunding Obamacare hasn't been monolithic among conservative media, with prominent voices like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer speaking out against the strategy.
But many of the most vocal agitators in the conservative bubble cheered on congressional efforts to demand the defunding or delay of Obamacare as a condition of funding the government. They have also been applying serious pressure on Congressional Republicans to stick to their guns during the shutdown
After repeatedly begging Congressional Republicans to continue the federal government shutdown, Sean Hannity is ratcheting up his expectations. He encouraged conservatives to leave the government inoperable for up to two months if that's what it takes for Democrats to acquiesce to GOP demands -- advice that would carry devastating effects for the American people.
October 1 marked the first day of a federal government shut down, as House Republicans refuse to fund the government unless Democrats and President Obama agree to significant changes to the three-year-old Affordable Care Act (ACA or "Obamacare").
Fox host Sean Hannity has spent the last year begging Republicans to hold America hostage and shut down the government over Obamacare. Now that he's gotten his wish, Hannity is ordering conservatives to keep the government closed, even if it takes "a month or two months." As he told Republican Sen. Rand Paul (KY) on Hannity about the shutdown:
HANNITY: I think the worst outcome, though, for the Republicans in the House at this point -- as they have been reasonable and the president totally unreasonable, Reid unreasonable -- is to cave. I don't think they should give in at all. And if that means that they're going to sit this out for a month or two months, or however long the president wants to be arrogant and not talk to anybody, then just sit it out.
The effects of a protracted government shutdown would be catastrophic.
After only two or three weeks, veterans' disability claims and pension payments to approximately 3.6 million veterans likely won't be paid.
Funding for the Women, Infants, and Children program (WIC), which gives grants to states for low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and infants, will run dry after one week of a shutdown. WIC, which serves 53 percent of all babies born in the U.S. has contingency funds are available, but they will be exhausted by the end of the month.
Food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, will run out of money to operate by the end of October if the shutdown is ongoing.
Importantly, this damage would pile on top of the chaos the shutdown immediately caused. After House Republicans forced the government to close, over 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and may not receive pay. National parks and landmarks closed. Many home loans no longer processed and economic growth will slow. The Center for Disease Control will cease some disease-prevention programs and most of the Food and Drug Administration's food-safety operations will end.
Unsurprisingly, Hannity is unconcerned by this impact, as it "doesn't impact [him] mentally."
From the October 1 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Conservative radio host and Fox News pundit Sean Hannity appears to be under the impression that Healthcare.gov -- a government website that facilitates health insurance enrollment that recently went live -- is actually a "life or death" prerequisite for 9-1-1 and whose opening day glitches could be preventing people from accessing emergency care.
The Affordable Care Act's (ACA) insurance exchanges rolled out on October 1 providing an option for millions of uninsured Americans to obtain health care.
On the October 1 edition of his radio show, Hannity compared the ACA to the Ford Edsel -- a hightly-anticipated automobile that suffered poor sales and was ranked by Time magazine as one of the 50 worst cars of all time and "synonymous with failure." Hannity then segued into reports of glitches hindering the ACA's new website, saying, "Think of how you'd feel today if you actually had a medical emergency -- had to go through this mess before they send an ambulance. At least the Ford Edsel wasn't a matter of life and death."
Hannity appears to be implying that accessing healthcare.gov is somehow required before receiving emergency care. In fact, under a law enacted in 1986, virtually all emergency departments are required to render emergency medical assistance, regardless of insurance status -- that requirement also applies to most ambulances -- according to the National Institute of Health.
From the October 1 edition of Premiere Radio Networks' The Sean Hannity Show:
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Fox News' Sean Hannity repeated the recent Fox talking point that President Obama was willing to negotiate with Iran, Syria, and other foreign actors, but refused to even speak with Republican members of Congress. In fact, the president has repeatedly emphasized his willingness to negotiate and recently spoke with Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and other congressional leaders.
On the September 30 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity asked his guest. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), about the President's willingness to work with Republicans to avoid a looming government shutdown over GOP efforts to defund the Affordable Care Act. Hannity said, "The president will talk to Syria, Iran, Vladimir Putin, but he won't talk to members of the House of Representatives or the U.S. Senate. Do I have that right?" Graham responded, "You got it right."
Hannity claimed Obama was unwilling to even "talk" with Republicans in Congress. In reality, Obama called Speaker Boehner and other GOP leaders earlier today. According to Reuters:
President Barack Obama urged House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner on Monday to back legislation to fund the government for six weeks and to vote on it quickly to avoid a government shutdown in hours.
The White House said Obama, in a phone call to the top Republican in Congress, asked Boehner to drop House Republican attempts to tie continued funding of the government to cutting money for Obama's signature healthcare law, the central obstacle holding up an agreement.
Despite Hannity's claim, Obama's call to congressional leaders was even reported in his show's on-screen text:
And though the text describes the news as "Breaking News," Reuters reported on the call over an hour before Hannity aired.
OBAMA: I'm always willing to work with anyone of either party to make sure the Affordable Care Act works better, to make sure our government works better. I'm always willing to work with anyone to grow our economy faster, or to create new jobs faster, to get our fiscal house in order for the long run. I've demonstrated this time and time again, oftentimes to the consternation of my own party.
From the September 30 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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Fox News' misleading attacks on President Obama's health care law reached new heights in the week preceding the opening of insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act Fox figures also pressured Republican politicians to defund or repeal the law, even at the expense of shutting down the federal government.
Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Andrea Tantaros argued that if House Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, the resulting default is nothing to be afraid of because, according to Tantaros, the country needs "to feel a little bit of pain."
Congress is currently facing a fast-approaching deadline to increase the nation's borrowing authority and approve funding to run the government beyond September 30. Failure to raise the nation's debt ceiling would cause the U.S. government to default on its legal obligations by the middle of October.
Thus far, House Republicans have indicated they are unwilling to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats acquiesce to a slew of demands, including, as The New York Times explained, "a one-year delay of the [Affordable Care Act], a tax overhaul and a broad rollback of environmental regulations."
Fox News has spent this week downplaying the urgency of the upcoming deadline. But two Fox hosts have now taken it further, arguing that failure to raise the debt ceiling wouldn't be so bad and endorsing the resulting default.
On the September 26 edition of Hannity, host Sean Hannity and The Five co-hosts Bob Beckel and Andrea Tantaros discussed whether Republicans would ultimately agree to raise the debt ceiling. When Beckel argued that the Republicans' gambit was too risky because it "puts the full faith and credit of the United States currency in jeopardy," Tantaros disagreed:
TANTAROS: We hear this every time, that a default would be terrible. And it would be. But what's the alternative? To keep spending? That would be terrible as well ... There's part of me, Sean, that does want us to feel a little bit of pain.
Hannity shrugged off Beckel's concern that a US default could "wreck the monetary system of the world":
HANNITY: You know what Bob, I think you overstate -- It sounds a little bit like sequestration. Predictions of doom and gloom, and none of it ever happened. The world isn't collapsing ... I'm really not that afraid of it. It may be naivety.
It would be catastrophic for the United States to follow the Fox hosts' logic and default on our debt. If the debt ceiling is not lifted by October 17, the United States government will be unable to finance the payment of its pre-existing expenses through the continued sale of Treasury bonds. Economists across the board agree this would send the global markets into chaos and send interest rates skyrocketing. Domestically, money for government employees, the military, Social Security, Medicare, food safety inspections, and much, much more could cease or be delayed.
Following a 21 hour fake filibuster by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), right-wing media figures were quick to praise the effort as "genius." Fox host Sean Hannity opened his September 25 show, Hannity, with an over-the-top montage of Sen. Cruz's filibuster alongside images of Gadsden flags, American flags, trains, and Americans getting their hair cut, while conservative radio host Bill Cunningham compared Cruz to Davy Crockett, James Bowie, and John Wayne:
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's (TX) speech on the floor of the Senate was the culmination of a several-month campaign to convince his congressional colleagues to vote against any appropriations bill that does not defund Obamacare, which gained the support of a host of right-wing talk radio figures such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Erick Erickson, and Rush Limbaugh.
After Cruz spent 21 hours pleading for Republicans and Democrats to vote against cloture, the motion passed unanimously with the acquiescence of Cruz himself.
Several years ago, it was expected these talkers would have cowed the Republican Conference to their whim. Today, Sean Hannity is supportive of Cruz but other elements of the conservative movement remain divided. Fox News contributor Karl Rove has used his media platform to make arguments for avoiding this fight, while fellow contributor Sarah Palin has attacked Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, demanding he "release the GOP names encouraging you to trash [Ted Cruz.]"
Since Rush Limbaugh's radio program went into syndication in August of 1988, talk radio has held unprecedented power over the GOP, wreaking vengeance on those who defied it. Erick Erickson recently cited conservative anger at George H.W. Bush for violating his "no new taxes" pledge as the reason for his defeat in 1992.
The age of talk radio has not been kind to the Republican Party's national candidates who have failed to capture a plurality of the popular vote in five of seven elections since Limbaugh's program went national. (In fact, one of those elections was Bush's 1988 victory, which, in reality, occurred before his influence reached its apex.)
Conservative talk radio is good for its hosts' bottom lines because it captures the loyalty, dedication, and financial muscle of a large niche audience. This can amount to millions of listeners, hundreds of millions of dollars, but still represents a limited quantity of voters -- far less than the 50 percent it takes to win an election.
Politicians like Cruz recognize the power of that niche in building his brand within the Republican Party.
Cruz also recognizes the financial benefit long known by the talk radio hosts raising millions of dollars off of a stunt that threatens to do billions of dollars in damage to the economy. It's important to recognize, however, that even the majority of Republicans oppose Cruz's tactic.
Instead of rallying in support or cowering in fear, Cruz's GOP colleagues in the Senate are bucking the conservative radio base for fear of being replaced in the primaries.
In addition to failing to unite behind Cruz's campaign, Fox recently announced its decision to downgrade the position of its talk radio star Hannity from his prime location at 9 p.m. to the less desirable 10 p.m. timeslot. This moves makes way for Megyn Kelly who, while maintaining the network's conservative ethos, delivers a far different product than her conservative counterparts.
It is perhaps heartening that after nearly 25 years of right-wing talking heads dragging the Republican Party away from a place where it can constructively engage with its counterparts, the Senate Republican Conference has briefly broken free of talk radio's grip.
It remains to be seen if this a long-term trend or a short-term realignment. But for once, the calculation that what is good for Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and now Ted Cruz is often to the detriment of the broader Republican Party has been heeded at this time by its leaders in the United States Senate.
Fox News figures have relentlessly pushed the GOP to defund the Affordable Care Act while ignoring the effect that defunding would have on health care costs, uninsured Americans, and new health care services.
Hawking shady products - gold coins sold at a 30-percent markup, "survival seeds," and financial newsletters only designed to enrich their authors -- has long been the core strategy of funding the conservative media enterprise.
But the deleterious effect of the latest conservative media scam threatens to be far greater than a tube of seeds that will yield no fruit.
The conservative media, along with Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT), have conned their base into believing that shutting down the government -- unless Barack Obama agrees to stop the implementation of Obamacare -- is a strategically and politically salient idea for the GOP and the conservative movement. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) earlier this summer dubbed it "the dumbest idea I've ever heard."
Fueled by television ads starring Cruz and paid for by the Senate Conservative Fund -- a PAC initially founded by Heritage President Jim DeMint to shift the Senate GOP Conference rightward -- this movement was buoyed by an active campaign from the conservative media that began months ago. In July, Rush Limbaugh called the effort to block funding the government a "crucial thing" and the "one last chance to stop" Obamacare.
Sean Hannity called for a government shutdown months ago, telling his audience:
"I think they ought to just put their foot down, stand on principal and stop calculating what political impact is going to be felt here. Fund the rest of the government, but just defund Obamacare. And then if the Democrats want to shut down the government, then let them shut it down."
Fox News contributor Erick Erickson has used his blog, RedState.com, to call for the "scalps" of Republican politicians who do not "fight" to defund Obamacare with a government shutdown.
This has set off an internal GOP war, with some on the right expressing doubt that a government shutdown is a viable or effective strategy. This was on display Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation when Tom Coburn (R-OK) implied that his colleagues in the Senate pushing for a government shutdown weren't living in the "real world."
"Tactics and strategies ought to be based on what the real world is, and we do not have the political power to do this," Coburn told host Bob Schieffer. "We're not about to shut the government down over the fact that we cannot, only controlling one house of Congress, tell the president that we're not going to fund any portion of this. Because we can't do that."
Karl Rove also took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to warn that defunding the government over Obamacare "would strengthen the president while alienating independents," ultimately leading the GOP towards electoral defeat.
Coburn, Rove, and others calling for restraint now are simply trying to slay a monster of their own creation. In early 2009, with momentum carrying the Obama administration forward, the Tea Party and its champions fought to create this toxic environment in which forcing a government shut down over Obamacare seemed like a viable option.
August town hall meetings degenerated into chaos as grassroots conservatives screamed at their members about a government takeover of healthcare. Obamacare was not simply a new health insurance system; the conservative base believed it was an all-out effort by Democrats to kill their grandmothers and children with disabilities. It needed to be defeated at all costs.
Tea Party members in Congress and the conservative media continued to use this rhetoric with their base long after their lies had been debunked and long after the bill's passage.
They cheered as this rhetoric enabled the GOP to win 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six in the Senate, and 675 state legislative seats -- allowing them to control the redistricting process.
They pushed their state governments to reject the law's Medicaid provisions and exchanges and looked the other way as conservative groups attempted to sabotage the implementation of the law by convincing young people it would be better to go without health insurance than sign up for Obamacare.
Admittedly, some groused when tea party extremists rejected candidates such as Mike Castle in Delaware in favor of sure losers like Christine O'Donnell, but they stood silent as tea party members in the House made the chamber ungovernable.
This week these strategies have finally come to a head. With the deadline for funding the government days away, the House has passed a bill sure to be rejected in the Senate and one the President won't sign. The Republican Caucus in the House is primarily made up of Tea Party members, whose districts, due to gerrymandering, are more subservient to the rhetoric of the conservative media than to the needs of the country.
Even those in the GOP and the conservative media lamenting this latest potential government shutdown bear responsibility for it. They have stood by and cheered since 2009 as the conservative base was spoon-fed lies about healthcare. Now that they recognize these lies have metastasized, not simply into false promises about gold coins or gardens that will feed your family after a financial apocalypse but into a political movement that will do long-term damage to the GOP, they are crying for its end.
However, the faulty calculation sold, and continuing to be sold, by many in the right-wing media is clear: if you can stop the federal government from murdering your grandmother and child, then a government shutdown and even electoral defeat is a small price to pay.
After previously being called out for making sexist comments to Fox News contributor Tamara Holder, conservative radio host Bill Cunningham was invited back on opposite her on Hannity, where he once again made inappropriate remarks.
On Thursday September 19, Cunningham questioned Holder's ability to do "math," and then proceeded to tell her that she doesn't "look like a Catholic girl," but rather a "Farrah Fawcett wannabe." This followed a Fox News daytime show calling out Cunningham in June for not being "civil" when he told Holder, "Know your role and shut your mouth." Holder asked, "My role as a woman?" And Cunningham agreed, "Yeah. Yeah." Cunningham later asked Holder while berating her, "What are you going to cry?"
Cunningham's comments aren't out of character for Hannity, a show that regularly features sexist commentary:
From the September 19 edition of Fox News' Hannity:
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