Americans Reject Using A Government Shutdown To Legislate

Yesterday evening, President Obama gave a short speech where he urged Congress to pass a continuing resolution to prevent a government shutdown and criticized Republican leaders for attempting to extract concessions from him without giving anything up themselves.

“[O]ne faction of one party in one house of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” Obama said. “Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you give to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility.”

In fact, Democrats have already agreed to a deal with Republicans where they are giving up something and the GOP isn’t. It’s the clean CR that keeps sequestration. Democrats are giving billions in budget cuts to Republicans, who are giving up nothing. Yet, a small, but powerful group of conservative House Republicans won’t even consider that deal and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) won’t bring up the bill out of fear of them. If he did take the political risk and bring the clean CR to the floor, it would pass with a large majority, the Senate would pass it and the government shutdown would end, all with a bill in which Democrats make concessions and Republicans don’t.

Now, imagine if Republicans were looking to cut spending beyond sequestration ($986 billion in discretionary spending) to the level laid out in the 2014 Ryan Budget ($967 billion). Under this scenario, the Republicans starting position would still be absurd as the Senate Democrats original 2014 budget set spending at $1,058 billion. The sequester has already trimmed that to a $986 billion. Reducing it all the way to the levels of the Ryan Budget would be an outrageous demand. But at least that demand would have to do with levels of federal spending. There would be a very clear, logical connection between the government funding and the Republican position. But Republicans aren’t asking for anything related to federal spending right now. It’s all about finding ways to undermine Obamacare. That’s what sets this government shutdown apart from previous ones.

This is the 18th government shutdown in U.S. history. Here’s how the causes of them breakdown (thanks to Wonkblog’s Dylan Matthews for the great roundup):

  • 9 were caused by disagreements over spending levels on certain programs, projects, departments or the entire government (1976, 1978, 1981, 1982 #2, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1995, 1996)
  • 4 were caused by disagreements over whether Medicaid dollars could go towards abortion (1977 #1, 1977 #2, 1977 #3, 1979)
  • 2 were caused by disagreements over Civil Rights legislation and a couple of projects (1984 #1, 1984 #2)
  • 1 was caused by disagreements over labor contracts and welfare expansion (1986)
  • 1 was caused by negligence (1982 #1)

In nearly every shutdown, the two parties disagreed on issues related to levels of funding or how federal spending would be used. These were differences of opinion directly related to budget negotiations. In almost every situation, there was an actual negotiation and each side compromised to find a solution. It required a government shutdown, but the structure for negotiations always existed as the initial starting positions for each party were related to federal spending.

There were a couple of occasions where that was not the case, such as when Democrats attempted to enact a Civil Rights law in 1984 and ensure that the FCC enforced the “Fairness Doctrine” in 1987. However, the party looking to use a government shutdown to legislate always lost. Democrats eventually relented on the Civil Rights legislation and the “Fairness Doctrine.” This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to enact legislation unrelated to federal spending during a government shutdown, but it has never succeeded before. The main reason for that is that negotiations over funding the government are supposed to be just that. They aren’t supposed to be a place where one party can extort the other.

Yet, this is what House Republicans are trying to do. They are trying to force the Administration to delay or defund Obamacare in order to fund the government at a level that everyone agrees on. When a final agreement is reached (or Republicans relent), the CR will almost certainly be set at $986 billion. Republicans aren’t concerned about spending levels. They are using the government shutdown to legislate. This is exactly what President Obama said in his remarks earlier today as well.

“No, this shutdown is not about deficits,” he said. “It’s not about budgets. This shutdown is about rolling back our efforts to provide health insurance to folks who don’t have it. It’s all about rolling back the Affordable Care Act.”

Fortunately, Americans seem to be well aware of what Republicans are trying to do and are wholeheartedly rejecting it. A Quinnipiac Poll today found that 72% of respondents disapprove of Congress using a government shutdown to block Obamacare. Just 22% approve of the tactic. This is in stark contrast to the overall approval rating of the law, which sits at -2% (45% in favor, 47% opposed). That demonstrates that Americans disapprove of the Republican’s tactic of using a government shutdown to legislate.

If the numbers were reversed, Democrats would face political pressure to adjust the law. It would alter the dynamics of government spending negotiations forever – allowing the party not being blamed for the shutdown to enact legislation via extortion. That’s not a proper way for our government to function. By overwhelmingly rejecting the Republican’s strategy, Americans are sending a message loud and clear: using a government shutdown to legislate is not acceptable. Hopefully, Republicans get the message soon enough.

Credit to Ted Cruz

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As you’ve no doubt heard, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) is performing a pre-arraigned filibuster (I’m going to call it a filibuster) against the House passed continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare. Cruz has no chance of stopping the actual bill from moving forward since Republicans are not going to vote against cloture (allowing debate on the bill to proceed) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will strip the defunding language from it in an amendment that only needs 51 votes to pass (can’t be filibustered). Cruz’s filibuster here is entirely a political stunt. But that’s part of what makes it so impressive.

Many conservatives today are upset that the mainstream media isn’t paying as much attention to Cruz as it did to Wendy Davis’s filibuster in the Texas State Senate in June. As you may remember, Davis’s filibuster was futile too. She was able to run out the clock on that legislative session, but soon after, Governor Rick Perry (R-TX) called for another special legislative session and the bill passed anyways. Davis was soon a national liberal hero and is considering running for governor.

Here’s the thing: Cruz’s filibuster is more impressive than Davis’s. 

Both Cruz and Davis were standing up for something they believed in, though they knew they were doomed to fail. They had grassroots supports and were entirely committed to their goals. However, Davis had the backing of the Democratic establishment and her Democratic colleagues. She didn’t risk alienating her fellow Democrats. On the contrary, it was certain to make her a national sensation.

The same is not true of Cruz. Before he began his filibuster, his Republican colleagues pleaded with him not to waste time and talk all night. They told him that doing so was give the House basically no time to pass a CR once the bill got back to them. It would hurt the party politically. Those senators have a point. That may happen, but Cruz ignored them anyways.

He’s also alienating Republican donors, something he’ll need if he runs for president in 2016. Those donors see Cruz’s filibuster as a cheap, parliamentary trick that accomplishes nothing and eventually puts the House in a tight stop.

Furthermore, his filibuster increases the chance of a government shutdown, as the party leadership pointed out to him. Like everyone, Cruz does not want a government shutdown, but he also knows this is his last chance to stop Obamacare. His filibuster will have no tangible accomplishments, but increases the risk of a fiscal crisis.

And despite all of that opposition – from the Republican establishment, Republican leadership and Republican donors – Cruz decided to filibuster the bill. He decided to risk alienating those key supporters to demonstrate his opposition to Obamacare. Say what you will about Cruz doing so just to gain political points, but he’s also risking a lot. He was already adored by the base. If he hadn’t performed this filibuster, the Tea Party may have been disappointed in him, but they wouldn’t have turned on him. He could’ve talked for a couple of hours, yielded the floor and allowed the vote on cloture to proceed. It wouldn’t have angered McConnell and donors and it would have made his point.But he decided to talk all night.

The base is going to LOVE this and rightfully so. Cruz really is bucking the establishment to stand up for what he believes in. Because of that, it’s unclear if his filibuster helps his presidential ambitions. It’s certainly not a good policy move. Liberals fell in love with Wendy Davis, but she never had to choose between siding with her colleagues and donors or standing up for what she believed in. Cruz had that choice and he chose to stick by his principles. He deserves credit for that.

It’s All About Obamacare

Wonkblog’s Ezra Klein penned a piece this morning that misses the main reason why we are rapidly heading towards a government shutdown. Klein compares the current negotiations over the continuing resolution to the ones that took place in 2011 and sees two main differences:

1) In 2011, the White House knew whom to deal with. Back then, House Speaker John Boehner actually did seem reasonably in sync with his party on these issues, and so the White House was able to negotiate with Republican leadership on a deal. Today, the relevant negotiations are happening in the Republican Party, with GOP leadership trying to fight conservatives who want to shut down the government, and no one knows who actually has the power to cut and close a deal.

2) In 2011, the White House was willing to deal. The White House believed, in its gut, that Republicans had been given a mandate in the 2010 elections to extract exactly the kind of concessions they were demanding. In addition, the White House believed President Obama would be a likelier bet for reelection if he could cut a “grand bargain” with the newly resurgent Republicans, taking their key issue away from them.

This year, it’s the White House that won the last election, and so they see no popular legitimacy behind Republican demands. In addition, they are deeply, fervently committed to the proposition that they will never again negotiate around the debt ceiling, as that’s a tactic history will judge them harshly for repeatedly enabling. So even if Boehner could cut a deal on the debt ceiling, the White House isn’t open to negotiating.

Both of those points are correct, but they obscure the fact that for House Republicans, these fiscal fights are all about Obamacare. That’s been the key all along.

There is an inherent contradiction in the Republican belief that Obamacare will be an unmitigated disaster and their desperate, politically suicidal attempts to defund the law. If the law is going to catastrophically fail, the Republican Party should have no problem waiting for that to happen and use it to take back the Presidency and Senate in 2016. If they really believe it will be such a disaster, then they shouldn’t threaten a government shutdown over it. But House Republicans are making that threat and many are willing to follow through on it. That indicates that Republicans are worried that Obamacare will succeed and that’s why yesterday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said, “this short-term budget represents our last chance to stop it.”

In fact, the Republican Pary’s last chance to stop the law was the 2012 election. This fight is over and Obama has won. He’s not going to delay the law or defund it, but House Republicans are so against it that they will do anything to stop it. As Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) said today, “Obamacare is worth throwing yourself on the sword.”

The GOP doesn’t care about cutting spending, approving the Keystone XL pipeline or cutting taxes. Right now, it’s all about Obamacare.

Two year ago, the White House and Republicans could negotiate with each other because both had something the other wanted and were willing to compromise (barely). The same is true today, but the White House will never, ever defund the law and House Republicans will not accept any deal that doesn’t do that.

That’s what really makes the 2013 showdown different from 2011.