Tuesday, September 07, 2010


Jonathan Bernstein, Steve Benen, and Zandar have been talking about possibility that Republicans will try to shut down the government next year. Looking back to the Gingrich government shutdown, Jonathan B. says:

Now, John Boehner was there, and remembers what happened. He almost certainly has a lot more respect for Barack Obama than Gingrich did for Clinton. He also should know, and probably does know, that the rise of the partisan media since 1995-996 will make it even harder for him, and for House Republicans, to extricate themselves from a high-profile stalemate; frankly, I think it's highly unlikely that Boehner could survive as Speaker following a high-profile "surrender" (that is, compromise). Given all of that, I think it's unlikely that Boehner would let himself get trapped in such a situation.

I don't buy that at all, for several reasons.

First of all, I don't think Boehner thinks Obama is tougher than Gingrich thought Clinton was -- and if he does think so, he shouldn't. Oh, sure, the Democrats hung on and ground out a (Pyrrhic) health care victory, but that's just about all they've managed since the early days; I don't think Obama has much fight left in him or knows how to fight effectively against these guys anymore.

But the key point is that this time the GOP has been laying groundwork to make the case that a government shutdown is policy, and, in fact, is good policy. Republicans have argued for nearly two years that the president and congressional Democrats have engaged in an orgy of excess government intervention. Even Republicans from the party's apparently non-crazy wing, like David Brooks, tend to agree. Boehner himself has asserted at times that the best thing that government could do to turn the economy around is, in effect, nothing.

Republicans also have a far louder and more powerful noise machine than the one in the Gingrich era. They'll find a way to spread the meme that the shutdown is Obama's fault. Their battle plan, unlike Gingrich's, will be devised with that talking point in mind. They'll sequence events so Obama can be blamed.

So while I agree with Steve Benen's assesment that Boehner probably has no choice but to go full speed ahead, I don't think it's going to be done reluctantly. Steve says:

... I'm not sure how much of a choice Boehner will have. The House Minority Leader has already said scrapping the entire health care reform law is his top priority, and Boehner's caucus -- and the party base -- will expect follow-through. Boehner could pass a repeal bill in the House, but after it failed in the Senate or got vetoed, he wouldn't be able to say, "Well, we gave it a shot; let's move on to other issues now." It's too late for that -- defunding the law is already far too popular within the GOP. There's an expectation that the fight has to happen.

Bernstein's right that Boehner's role as Speaker might not survive a failed confrontation with the president, but I'm not sure Boehner's role as Speaker could survive if he decided
not to force the confrontation.

I think he'll sell the message that this is good for America. And I think enough of America will buy it that he won't be politically harmed all that much. (Remember, it's a more extreme moment in American history -- Gingrich's shutdown came as economic recovery was taking hold after a moderately severe recession; this will take place in the depths of an interminable, horrible near-depression.) I also think the White House won't hang as tough as the Clinton White House did -- the president will be desperate to appease the radicals.

And Zandar says:

I ... believe that not only is a defund health care/shutdown fight inevitable should the GOP control the House, but an Obama impeachment fight as well.

I actually think that the two are related. If Boehner tries to lead a defunding fight and shuts down the government in the course of that fight, and then loses the fight, a drive for impeachment may come as a reaction to that failure. In other words, I think the Republicans may really take the criminalization of political differences to new heights --they'll try to impeach Obama precisely because he passed the health care law and because he fought off efforts to defund it. Why the hell not? The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors" sounds so vague to modern ears, and voices of reason are in such short supply (and such low regard) in America, that Republicans could try to impeach Obama over anything plausibly. So if they lose a defunding/shutdown fight, they'll just fight to defund on another battlefield. And it will all be deemed Obama's fault.

No comments: