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David Harsanyi: Can Republicans Win a Government Shutdown?

By David Harsanyi | @davidharsanyi |

If Republicans do happen to force a shutdown in Washington, it’s very possible they’ll be embracing a political loser while doing the rest of us an immense favor.

With three Washington-manufactured fiscal apocalypses — sequestration, the debt ceiling and a new “budget” — on the docket, the idea of shutting down government to extract concessions from the iron trap sometimes known as the Obama administration has gained traction among Republicans. Or, I should say, the idea of threatening to shut down Washington has.

Pat Toomey, John Cornyn and other conservatives have said as much, though they’ve littered their shutdown statements with comforting modifiers, such as “partial” and “temporary,” to allay the fears of Americans, who apparently can’t fathom existence without the Department of Commerce. Certainly, it would energize the conservative base, and it might be effective in pressuring Democrats into genuine spending reforms. Because, despite what you may have heard, it’s worked before.

As recent Washington arrival Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, pointed out, “we didn’t default on our debt” after the notorious 1995 shutdown battle between President Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich. “And the result was balanced budgets — and some of the greatest fiscal responsibility we have seen in modern times from Congress — because fiscal conservatives stood together and said, ‘We need to be responsible.’”

Gingrich, who has seemed to have some reservations about the shutdown through the years, now defends it in the context of policy, recently saying, “We would never have gotten to a balanced budget and we would never have gotten welfare reform without that fight.” Can the Republicans claim political victory again? I’m skeptical.

First of all, President Barack Obama isn’t Clinton. The level of ideological stamina in the White House, not to mention the willingness to fracture the nation to protect spending, is rather imposing. Moreover, Obama has no incentive to compromise after winning an election convincingly, and with the help of some of his friends in the media, he’s been able to portray the GOP as obstructionists for failing to rubber-stamp his agenda.

Then, John Boehner isn’t Gingrich, either. For all we hear about the latter’s eccentricities and faults, the Gingrich Congress — for a while there, at least — was imbued with a sense of purpose and offered Americans a cogent argument. Folks may not remember, but in the early phases of the fight, Clinton’s poll numbers were dropping — and nothing hurt the man more.

The country, too, is different. We will never — and I mean never — hear Obama offer America a speech declaring the era of big government over, because, well, it would be preposterous, and it’s not as if the country wants to hear it.

How Republicans shut down government matters, though. Failing to raise the debt ceiling would probably trigger panic in the markets. A more politically opportune time would be to deal with this when the government’s general operating budget expires. Seeing as Senate Democrats have been unable to produce a budget for years — and not a single politician has voted for an Obama budget — Republicans have a case to make about responsible governing.

But even if the GOP risks losing the short-term politics, no matter how fortuitous a shutdown might be for Democrats, it isn’t a situation any side could live with for an extended period of time. Obama would almost surely have to concede more on taxes and entitlement reform. Without a shutdown — or the threat of one — however, Republicans have no other leverage to obtain anything useful from the White House.

David Harsanyi is a columnist and senior reporter at Human Events. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him, follow him on Twitter: @davidharsanyi, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.




comments powered by Disqus

» on 01.11.13 @ 04:47 PM

The writer is probably correct in his thinking.

However, the Party of NO! can never be taken seriously as a political force to lead America toward a better future until it finds positive things it can support, rather than important or controversial things that it publicly fears, then opposes.

Democrats will never be able to do much better, until they find a way to come to
terms with the short and long-term burdens of the National Debt, and start to
make some of the tough spending, or entitlement eligibility, choices needed to
reach a financially stable, positive future for America.

While it’s true that Obama inherited eight years of profligate Republican deficit
spending, an almost-Depression, and two unfunded foreign wars, it’s time that
he come down from his ivory tower, and take a page from the picture of Lincoln
in Goodwin’s book and Kushner’s script. Someone with a clear vision of what he
wants to do, why he wants to do it, and how he intends to do it. Then, he has to
roll up his sleeves, like Lincoln did, and start to get to know his allies, foes, and
undecided parties on a personal basis, and convince some of them to trust him.

That’s way different and way harder than being an Ivy League lawyer, a U. of
Chicago professor, or a detached intellectual who lets Axelrod and Plouffe pull
data, marketing, and campaign strings for him, as he endlessly recites the same
rote speeches.

Can Boehner actually lead? Is McConnell more interested in his primary challenge
from the reactionary Right, or in doing what’s best? Can Pelosi and Reid come up
with fresh ideas, and bring their folks along? Can Obama come down from the
clouds, and help make people of good will succeed? Who the heck knows?

» on 01.11.13 @ 06:47 PM

Your man had plenty of opportunity to end Bush’s profligate deficit spending but chose instead to double it. His attitude since re-election has been “FU America, I plan to double it down again”. If you are too enamored with this foolish clown to see that then you are part of the problem.

AS for the GOP they are finished. There is no one in that party with the courage to lead. They are not the party of no as you erroneously assert, the democrats are the ones saying no and on ideological grounds. What the GOP lacks is a spine and the courage to push the left back from their ruinous European socialist worshiping and their attempt to bankrupt this country for ideological reasons.

» on 01.12.13 @ 01:26 AM

Start with a concession to roll back the Bush Tax Cuts, which is what holds up all negotiations at this point.

The GOP is happy to hold our economy hostage. And the Bishop needs an enema, the cranky old sod is full of crap.

» on 01.12.13 @ 01:47 PM

Explain Ramjet how and why the Bush tax cuts are good/bad or otherwise. All we hear from you moveon parrots is the same dopy talking points, with little intellectual content. When you can prove with rational data that taxing the snot out of the successful increases revenue to government when all data for the last 50 years shows the opposite, we’ll listen. Otherwise keep your pedantic adolescent pie hole shut.

As for deficits, it make no friggen difference what the revenue stream is, you spend what you take in and no more. Its too bad most of the left and a good chunk of the right have a brain aneurism over that simple formula.

» on 01.12.13 @ 02:36 PM

The last 50 years, Bishop ANchove? How about just go back to before the Bush years? Yeah, I thought you might forget.

These are the lowest tax rates in memory, and they have not stimulated investment. Quite the opposite.

If my AGI comes in at $300K, and the tax goes up on my income above $250K, the best thing I can do to avoid paying a higher rate is invest $51K in my business. Hire another worker, buy a piece of capital equipment, build critical inventory. All of which are investments stimulated by the higher tax bracket, that will likely increase income and the value of my business (capital gains).

With an AGI of $250K, I am doing quite well. I’m always surprised at how many fools think AGI of $250K = salary of $250K. No, it means $250K after all deductions. And even then, some of the fools among us think the higher tax applies to the whole $250K. No, it doesn’t apply to the first $250K, only the portion over $250K.

And that’s what the GOP would save us from. In the meantime, their brinksmanship unsettles markets and makes capital less accessible to business. Not to mention the downgrading of our government bonds.

Fools like you see the problem in terms of somebody getting something you think they don’t deserve. That’s exactly what they want you to believe, upstairs in Downton Abbey.

» on 01.14.13 @ 07:22 PM

Rambler, the reasons for non investment are many fold, but to assert that it’s because taxes aren’t high enough is just plain ridiculous. We have traveled down this road too often and always end up at the same divergent point. You believe government is better at determining where investments should be made and I don’t.

Certainly government can aid in the investment picture, NASA and DARPA are two government research agencies whose end products have had a tremendous affect on private investment, mostly in the technology sector. One could even say that our tax dollars invested in these two departments was money well spent since those multibillion dollar investments yielded a multitrillion dollar expansion of the private sector economy. The taxes paid actually produced even more revenue to the government. That is an ROI we can all stand behind. But taxes spent on entitlements is now swamping that, so much so that we need to borrow more than we take in to support them.

When you can explain to me how this strategy begs for more taxes and is a sound investment I’ll listen. But you haven’t. You can’t, no one can. Entitlements are a huge waste of capital that actually makes the human recipients worse off than where they started. You know it and so do I. also, your picture of AGI does not predict more revenue to government with higher taxes, which was one of the points I was making.

So again, deficits have nothing to do with revenue. If revenue drops then so should your expenditures, period. To say that a tax cut causes deficits is to say that all spending is set in stone and can never be reduced, which, unless you are a politician, is a big fat lie.

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