Monday, April 24, 2017

A government shutdown?!

This is another post that I shouldn't have to write, yet here I am.  Brief shutdowns, in which Congress misses a deadline by a day aren't all that rare, in historic terms.  However, we have only had a couple of extended shutdowns in recent decades:  1995 and 2013.  Are we really about to have another?  During unified government?  Really?

A quick primer.  A shutdown, if brief, is no big deal.  It becomes a big deal if it drags on.  If Congress doesn't appropriate money to an agency, it runs out of money.  It can't pay employees, so employees have to be furloughed, beginning with the least-essential employees.  As time passes, more and more essential services get cut.  In 1995, Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) thought that a government shutdown would be a great tool to make the point that government services were pointless anyway, so he wandered around saying, "the government's shut down, do you miss it yet?"  Eventually, they did.  If you need a passport and can't get it, you miss the government, as an example.  In 1995, Republicans, under the leadership of Newt Gingrich, shut down the government with a demand that Clinton agree to cut social spending, particularly on healthcare.  Clinton refused.  Republicans took the blame and caved.  In 2013, Republicans, pressured by Ted Cruz and against the advice of John Boehner (who led a failed attempt to topple Newt Gingrich in the summer of 1997 for Newt's idiotic "leadership"), shut down the government demanding that Obama agree to cuts in healthcare spending.  Obama refused.  Republicans took the blame and caved.  "Rarely is the question asked: is our Republicans learning?"

OK, see the pattern in 1995 and 2013?  Congress and a president of opposing parties with different preferences over spending.  Right now, we have Congress and a president of the same party.  The point of a standoff is you hope to win by having the public blame the other party.  You can't blame the other party when the other party has no power.  This brings us back to what we have been seeing over, and over, and over again.  The internecine warfare within the Republican Party, and the struggle to prove that I'm more conservative than you are, which was really what the 2013 shutdown was about.  When Ted Cruz pushed the shutdown, he really did know it would fail.  The point was to call John Boehner a sellout when Boehner was forced to cave.

Right now, the Republican Party has to decide whether or not to shut down the government.  If it does, the question is not which party takes the blame, but which faction within the party takes the blame.  Here's the thing.  The establishment faction-- the Paul Ryan faction-- is so afraid of the consequences of a shutdown that they just need to figure out how to cave.  This brings us back to a reference I have made a few times:  Gary Cox and Mathew McCubbins' Legislative Leviathan.  Short version:  party leaders structure the agenda in such a way as to unify the party around bills that give them a good brand name.  Shutdowns hurt the national brand, and that's what Paul Ryan can't allow.  Whatever internal fights he has to lose, he'll lose, just like Boehner did.  Otherwise, the party loses.  That's why he didn't want the job in the first place.

Being Speaker right now sucks.

And that's before we talk about how Mexico was supposed to pay for that wall, which no intelligent person ever believed...

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