Friday, October 18, 2013

Government Shutdown Lessons Learned

Progressive commentator Eugene Robinson writes in the Washington Post:
Apologists say that Boehner had to go through with the shutdown and go down to the wire on the debt ceiling to show the hard-core tea-party members of his caucus that "we control one-half of one-third of the government," as the speaker has said -- that a slender House majority has limited power.
“Apologists say”? I actually hadn’t heard the “apologist” line of reasoning, but it strikes me as 100% right. Boehner clearly has a tiger (his “tea party” faction) by the tail. The tiger had to see for itself there was no way forward. It’s a big victory for Boehner the tiger realized this before it allowed Obama’s Treasury secretary to take the country into default (Treasury has great latitude in how it manages government’s continuous revenue stream--October 17 was Treasury’s own deadline, not a date set by statute).

House Republicans had the power to stop payments to government and to hold off raising the debt ceiling, but with Democrats controlling the Senate and White House, did not have the power to take any positive step. Boehner couldn’t argue a hypothetical though; the “tea party” tiger had to find out for itself. As Boehner foresaw it would.

Robinson neglects to remind us the government shutdown was costing Republicans dearly each day it lasted. The loss would have turned catastrophic had the country gone into default--a catastrophic result that would have greatly benefited Democrats. Boehner saved the country and his party while denying Democrats the spectacular screw-up for which Democrats secretly hoped.

Robinson also neglects to note that Boehner achieved the result he wanted at little cost to his control of House Republicans, even though he broke the “Hastert rule”--former House speaker Dennis Hastert’s insistence that any House action have the support of a majority of Republicans. Boehner broke the rule, and the “tea party” folks, instead of being furious, were happy to have been able to vote against the bill reopening government without at the same time blocking the result.

Finally, Robinson only mentions in passing that Republicans are unlikely to repeat their stunt anytime soon, underplaying what a great achievement it is for Boehner in future battles to be able to keep government open and to cover our debts. As a partisan Democrat writing for fellow Democrats, Robinson is blinded from seeing how Boehner achieved exactly the result he was looking for.

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