Friday, November 19, 2010

Shutdown Talk Returns

Grover Norquist is apparently pushing House Republicans to use the debt ceiling extension, which will need to be done early in 2011, as the setting for the big confrontation with Barack Obama over health care and whatever else.

This seems quite foolish, if the goal is to maximize GOP policy gains and GOP approval ratings while hurting Obama's approval ratings.  Not only would an early shutdown play right into the Democratic story line that Republicans are a bunch of crazy, irresponsible Tea Party goofballs (a story that many reporters are likely to believe), but it would be quite vulnerable to Washington Monument strategies (and, hey, Taegan Goddard, why isn't that in your excellent political dictionary?). 

Specifically, in a debt limit shutdown, as opposed to an appropriations bill shutdown, Obama could plausibly claim that Republicans would be putting the troops in danger by cutting off their funding. 

Moreover, the dynamics of divided Congressional control work against Republicans.  Obama wouldn't be vetoing anything.  If the House passes a debt ceiling extension larded with all sorts of Tea Party demands, the Senate will ignore it and take up a clean extension.  Either that will pass, giving the House the next move and allowing Obama to blame a squabbling Congress for everything, or it will be blocked by a Republican filibuster -- and it'll be awful hard for Republicans to blame Barack Obama for shutting down the government in either situation. 

Norquist pins his hopes on Fox News and "the internet."  It's true that the Republican partisan media would (naturally) take the GOP's side in any such confrontation, and partisans who get their news primarily from these sources would believe that Republicans were winning the confrontation.  That won't, however, change the basic logic of the situation, just as Fox News and the internet didn't prevent George W. Bush from losing spin contests on Katrina, Iraq, and the economy.  What may change from 1995-1996, and what John Boehner is no doubt aware of, is that the partisan media may make it even harder for Republicans to extricate themselves from a high-profile showdown.  That makes it more important to avoid getting into one without a clear path to victory. 

That's not to say that Republicans can't gain some policy advantages from the necessary extension of the debt limit.  They have some leverage.  But it's not a whole lot, and in particular a shutdown threat could easily backfire.

Granted, while a government shutdown, especially an early confrontation over the debt limit, would likely be a disaster for House Republicans, it stands to be a big winner for Fox News, conservative talk radio hosts, and anyone who makes money from getting grass roots Republicans angry enough to buy books, visit web sites, and give money to conservative causes. 


  1. Well maybe we lost the spin contest on the economy

  2. Obama could just offer them a few minor bones on health care (repeal the mandate or make it only triggered if coverage is below some percentage after the act has been fully implemented for x years, add more malpractice reform, etc.).

  3. True, both sides will play politics with this issue but there will be no winners. The debt ceiling being raised means even more debt for America and a larger service payment from Americans. Not raising the debt ceiling would mean no more borrowing to cover the deficit we have between revenue and expenditure. The real sad fact is that the feds already spend about 1.3 trillion more than they take out of our economy. One third of the budget has to be borrowed just to fund current expenditures which are going up every year. Even if the feds were to somehow live within it's means we would still have the 13 trillion in debt. We are in real trouble here and R's, D's and their respective cheerleaders are more concerned about a political win than they are about responsible governance.

    Politically however....this is likely to help the TEA party crowd the most. They will be free to rebuke GOP leaders if they chose to act like the big government Dems and not do the job they are paid to do. Already Jim DeMint won the first round by making McConnell bend on earmark bans.

    Our politicians have really put Americans in a bad place monetarily since the new deal approach started us down the road to government assistance addiction. Recovery and rehab will be painful.

  4. You have to remember that we have Harry Reid back in charge in the Senate.....that does not bode well for the democrats chances of turning the tables on republicans. I can see a situation where the republicans in the senate threaten a fillibuster in an effort to protect their buddies in the house and harry and the boys totally cave in to them. In short.....I do not have high hopes for the next two years. Shutdown, here we come!

  5. manapp99:

    "The debt ceiling being raised means even more debt for America and a larger service payment from Americans."

    No, no it doesn't. The debt ceiling rubber-stamps permission to pay debts *already accrued* back; it's not like spending on the credit card, it's paying down the balance at the end of the month.


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