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Stand Pat

11:35 AM, Oct 1, 2013 • By WILLIAM KRISTOL
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Our upcoming WEEKLY STANDARD cruise had me thinking (only a bit!) about blackjack, since the ship's casino is occasionally (rarely!) frequented after dinner by TWS editors and guests. I remember being told on a previous cruise by a real gambler that the characteristic error of occasional blackjack players is to take another card when they should stand pat. They do this when they have a mediocre hand and over-estimate the odds of improving it rather than busting, while under-estimating the odds of winning by just standing pat; and they do it when they think the dealer must have a winning hand because he has a strong up card, and think they need to take a big risk when they may well not. In other words, most blackjack players are either too hopeful they'll improve or too fearful of dealer's strength. They'd often do better if they just stood pat.

blackjack

That's the Republicans' situation today. They have a hand they could easily make worse by panicking, and which could be good enough for a win or draw if they keep calm. And their odds could improve if they now take a few days vigorously to make their case to the country: that they have acted to fund the government—while protecting Americans from having to buy insurance they don't want from exchanges they can't trust, and while reversing the special deal the Obama administration arranged for Congress so that Congress will have to live by the laws they impose on others. They could also stand ready to pass legislation, as they did before the shutdown with respect to military pay, addressing discrete parts of the government that might require exemption from the shutdown as real problems become apparent.

The best thing Speaker Boehner could probably do now is to say it's obvious Senate Democrats aren't going to negotiate, that the House GOP remains ready to talk (and the GOP conferees are in town and ready to confer), but that he's sending the rest of the Republican congressmen home for the next few days in order to talk with their constituents. The members would be liberated from the Beltway bubble, free to make their case where they can best make it, able to fight back against media attempts to exaggerate the consequences of the shutdown, and would have a chance to remind voters, in the exchanges' first week of operation, of just how bad in how many ways Obamacare is.

Meanwhile, the GOP leadership can think through the debt ceiling negotiations that will have to begin soon (since neither Boehner nor Harry Reid has the votes to pass a debt limit increase on a partisan basis). Indeed, the speaker could invite Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell and Nancy Pelosi to a pleasant lunch to begin those talks.

So the GOP's agenda for the rest of this week (and maybe until the debt limit deadline of October 17) is pretty simple: Stand pat on the shutdown, don't panic because of media hype or a few snap polls, make their case on the mandate and the special deal for Congress in particular, and on Obamacare in general—and figure out how to play their hand on the debt limit.

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