Right Thinking From The Left Coast
Chance favors the prepared mind - Louis Pasteur

Friday, April 08, 2011

The Practical Politics of Shutdowns

This will not be a popular post.  But I have to agree with Matt Welch, editor of the Best Magazine on the Planet, when he argues against a government shutdown tonight.

But as someone who has been making the case since George W. Bush’s first term that the federal government is growing at a rate that is literally, even admittedly, unsustainable, I fear that taking the keys from the Winnebago of state will redirect the national conversation away from the urgent business of long-term reform and toward the short-term theatrics of a political cage match.


As Aaron Burr could tell you, nothing improves your odds of salvaging victory from a losing argument quite like challenging your opponent to a duel. And make no mistake about it: In 2011, the Democrats, and specifically President Barack Obama, are losing this argument.

The country is out of money at every level, with entitlements and debt service alone poised to swallow the federal budget whole within a decade or two. Yet the president and his party utterly failed to deliver a budget for fiscal year 2011, a shocking abdication of responsibility made all the worse by the fact that they controlled Congress at the time.


There is a tangible hunger across the land for adult talk about our dangerous and unsustainable fiscal situation. Into the vacuum created by Democrats this week stepped Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, whose opening gambit, despite avoiding any serious cuts in defense and Social Security, had the virtue of at least kick-starting a long-overdue conversation.

Much of that will go out the window if and when the federal government shuts down. Instead of winning arguments, budget hawks will be trying to win press conferences. Instead of tackling reform, they’ll be trying to tackle the buffoon on the other side of the cage.

This encapsulates my feelings entirely.  A government shutdown is the nuclear button of budget battles.  The ensuing theatrics will make our current environment seem calm and reasoned.  Once you’ve pressed the shutdown button, where do you go from there?  If this tactic is used now, what does the GOP have left when it comes to the real fight over trillions of dollars in tax hikes, entitlements cuts and/or defense cuts?  We will have exhausted the public, rallied the Left, hurt millions and for what?  $10 billion?  Less?  If Harry Reid is to be believed—yeah, a stretch, I know—it’s not even that much; it’s about funding Planned Parenthood.  This is peanuts.

Do you really think the public is going to like this?  The base will love it, but what about the other 80% of the country? Millions of working poor will not be getting their EITC checks.  Millions more taxpayers will have their refunds delayed.  Hundreds of thousands of government workers will have at least delayed paychecks, missing mortgage payments or daycare payments (and they contractually can’t work elsewhere while the shutdown is on).  This isn’t liberal bias; this is fact.  Whether you oppose the EITC or think all government workers are overpaid or whatever is irrelevant.  That circus will be coming to town.

We have to remember that the country has a limited tolerance for politics.  And the GOP has a limited supply of political courage.  No matter who is at fault for a shutdown—and I’d put almost all of the blame on the Democrats—a shutdown makes it easier for the politicians to do what they desperately want to do—cut a few billion in discretionary spending and claim they’ve fixed the problem; make Paul Ryan and his charts go away. Either way, the liberals win.  There’s not just the precedent of the 1995 shutdown.  Welch talks about the catfight with the unions that derailed Schwarzeneggar’s efforts to fix California.

We should have a showdown with the Democrats.  But that showdown has to be over the long-term fixes necessary to fix our budget.  Watch that Paul Ryan video again—the computer simulations crash in 2037 on our current fiscal path.  A train is coming at us but the GOP is worried about a cockroach on their leg.

All of the arguments for a shutdown sound like bluster.  Having a cage match over 2011 will not strengthen the GOP’s spines—their spines are too weak to be strengthened.  It will simply move forward the date when their spines break.  Sticking a fork in 2011 doesn’t give the Democrats a “win” (as if that mattered).  They’re already lost the argument, having ceded billions in cuts.  And like it or not, the Democrats control the Senate and the White House.  We can’t wait a year and a half and hope the GOP wins something in 2012.  However we fix our budget, Democrats are going to have to be dragged along.  Is that more or less likely to happen after a shutdown?

A shutdown will be great for political bobbleheads like Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News gang.  I’m sure it will boost their ratings, which is why they are cheerleading so hard for it.  But we—the people who want this problem solved, not demagogued—have to be looking at the long term.  We have to start the FY12 debate over the budget and we have to start it now.  Every second and every soundbite that goes in the FY2011 debate over $10 billion is a second and a soundbite that does not go into the FY2012 debate over $4 trillion.

Let’s pick our battles.  We have a limited supply of bullets to fire at the Beast of Big Government.  Should we empty the clip at its toes?  Or save them up to fire at the heart?  Stick a fork in 2011 and get on o the real business of overhauling our government.  We’re winning.  Let’s not drop the ball now just to have a slap fight with the liberals.

Update: I would just like to note that this post must set some kind of land speed record for mixed metaphors.

Update: OK, now I’m freaked out.  Michelle Bachmann and Mike Huckabee agree with me.

Posted by Hal_10000 on 04/08/11 at 02:40 PM in Politics   Law, & Economics  • (0) TrackbacksPermalink
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