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Thursday, April 07, 2011

Beldar assesses risk to the GOP from a government shutdown to be lower now than in 1995

I've previously argued here, and in comments I've left on other blogs, that the House GOP ought not force a government shutdown over whether an interim funding bill includes controversial de-funding of particular programs like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS/NPR) or Planned Parenthood. Rather, my advice has been to defer those measures to the fight over the FY2012 budget. Some have misunderstood me to be suggesting we delay those fights until some time in calendar year 2012, but that's not at all what I've said or meant.

Rather, since the premiere this week of House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-WI) amazingly ambitious budget for FY2012 (which starts on October 1, 2011), we're already embarked on that fight — and that fight is vastly more consequential in the big picture than anything that is going to be done through interim spending bills. Insisting on cutting those controversial programs now gives the Dems undeserved and repeated opportunities to demagogue, and that may permit them to repeat their political triumph from the government shutdown in 1995 (which effectively guaranteed Bill Clinton's reelection).

Instead, the time to fight those fights — and they'll always be controversial, I don't dispute that — is as part of the fight on the FY2012 budget that, if handled right, will produce hundreds of billions of cuts in current spending, and trillions over the next decade. There are a lot of voters who will swallow hard at GOP cuts to programs those voters personally favor, but who will nevertheless choke them down if and only if they're part of a big dose of essential medicine that will genuinely restore financial sanity to our government. And you can't win over those voters through a hostage-taking strategy that shuts down the government over only a few billion dollars.


What Speaker Boehner and the House GOP are doing now, however, isn't necessarily inconsistent with my proposed strategy. Indeed, he's right not to back off on those hot-button issues until he's used them to extract every penny of spending cuts he can through these stopgap funding bills. The one-week extension passed through the House today is consistent with that strategy. And ultimately, if a few tens or even hundreds of millions in continuing expenditures on noxious programs is the cost of another $8-$10 billion in cuts above the $33B the Dems are already on board with, that's a very good trade in the short term.

However, you can't push to the limits at the negotiating table unless you're genuinely serious about facing the possibility of a shutdown. There's reason to hope that we're better prepared for that now than we were in 1995 (when it seemed we were completely, and recklessly, unprepared). But neither side knows, nor can know, how the public will react, and what political risks for November 2012 that presents. To extend my poker metaphor from last week, we've seen the flop, but we're still waiting for the turn and the river.

I'm no pollster, and in fact I'm intensely skeptical of public opinion polling as a proxy for the only polls that count — electoral polls on election day. But I think there are two fundamental differences between now and 1995 that both reduce the political risk to the GOP now, as compared to then:

First, notwithstanding what the public opinion polls may say about the number of "independents" or "swing voters," America is more polarized now than it was in 1995. That's the result of the Clinton impeachment, the 2000 election contest, the anti-war protests during the eight years of strong leadership on the Global War on Terrorism that George W. Bush gave us, and — more than all of the above put together — the systematic, unrestrained, and rapacious looting of the public fisc in which Barack Obama and the Democrats have been continuously engaged since January 2009. I just don't think there will be as many voters swayed by a shutdown as there were in 1995 — and of those who may be, quite a large percentage of them are Obama voters from 2008 who've since already realized that his halo is made of tin foil.

Second, although one can correctly point to a long list of contributing causes, any third-grader should be able to understand that the most obvious and direct cause — what lawyers would call the "proximate cause" — of a shutdown now would be the Democrats' explicable and inexcusable inability just to do their damn jobs last year.

Not a single voter sent Obama and his partisans to Washington with a mandate not to pass a budget for FY2011. The Dems controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress until January 2011 and yet couldn't pass a budget; indeed, they didn't even make a serious attempt. And that's just dirt-simple, and as obvious — and as obviously embarrassing — as a loud fart in church.

I will grant you that there are millions, and probably tens of millions, of voters who don't meet my hypothetical "any third-grader" standard in their political sophistication.

But they're already part of the Democratic base anyway.

Posted by Beldar at 08:05 PM in 2012 Election, Budget/economics, Congress, Current Affairs, Foreign Policy, Global War on Terror, Obama, Politics (2011), Ryan | Permalink


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(1) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 7, 2011 8:20:35 PM | Permalink

Of course, if the GOP runs another Bob Dole or John McCain (both good men and terrible candidates) in 2012, it won't matter anyway. But I'm far from pessimistic on that score.

(2) ColoComment made the following comment | Apr 8, 2011 11:48:46 AM | Permalink

I see another difference between today's budget confrontation and 1995: the instant and national dissemination of information. The Repubs are no longer subject to the censorship of the 1995 MSM with few to no alternative outlets to tell their story.

Today we've got twitter (well, you may have, I don't), YouTube, smartphone instant news updates, news blogs, whathaveyou.

And Boehner and Cantor and Ryan play very well on them.

(3) Milhouse made the following comment | Apr 8, 2011 5:59:20 PM | Permalink

Beldar, I voted against Dole for two reasons: ADM and ADA. I honestly had no preference between Clinton and Dole, and even in hindsight I still have no preference between them.

(4) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Apr 8, 2011 9:18:43 PM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Ah. I was one of those who didn't follow you completely in your original post. Your notions make much better sense to me now.

I think there still another reason a shutdown now would be different than 1995 and 1996: then, the nation was much farther along in a recovery, even beginning to sense the dot com boom that was coming. Today, everything is mediocre at best, with a distinct possibility of a relapse. I think this will tell against the party that is seen as clowning. The press of course will howl against the GOP, but every discussion of policy will favor the GOP. Paul Ryan's budget and roadmap are good starts (though only starts) compared to anything the Dems have put out. Have you seen the People's Budget mess that the lefties in the House came up with. Compare that to Ryan, and the superiority is obvious even to such hogs as Sachs, endlessly snouting for more and more govt.

2. Milhouse, I'm having a bit of trouble with the math in your #3. Have I solved these equations properly:

ADM = Archer-Daniels-Midland i.e. Dole as Senator Ethanol

ADA = Americans with Disabilies Act. Did Dole have a special role in helping GHW Bush ram that idiocy through? Or have I solved the equation wrong.

Either way, I think Dole would have been a better Prez than Billyboy, especially on foreign affairs. Minus such a dolt as Madwoman Albright at State, it's conceivable that September 11 might have been avoided. All speculation, of course.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

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