So over the last 48 hours, I have been getting hammered from my hardline progressive friends who’ve been losing their minds over this government shutdown and hold me accountable for anything any Republican in America thinks, says or does because apparently, I’m Reince Preibus (by the way, guys, I wish I were the RNC Chairman, but I’m not). It’s a standard I’ve never reciprocated with any of my Democratic friends, but perhaps I should start returning the favor.
In any case, there has also been lots of drama from left in the news media — as was expected. While markets remain unaffected (in fact, they’re closing higher by the day — as was the case after the sequester), all essential government services continue to operate, and the sun continues to rise, progressives are sticking with the talking points of calling Republicans “terrorists,” “hostage-takers,” and even going so far as to claim “our very own democracy is at stake!”
For God’s sake, this has happened 17 other times in the last 40 years, only there wasn’t a 24 hour news media and blogosphere to sensationalize them all back then. Somehow, we managed to survive and we’ll survive this one too. Democracy’s going to be just fine. If this got anymore melodramatic, I’d feel compelled to start this article with Carl Orff’s “O Fortuna:”
“But this time, it’s different! No one has ever held the government ‘hostage’ over the budget before! It’s something that gets passed every year and never had to be negotiated over!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been getting this and my answer is … seriously? Then you obviously don’t know your history. This isn’t unprecedented at all. In fact, there have been 18 government shutdowns since 1976 — 83% of them with Democratic Houses and 50% with Democratic Senates — with reasons ranging from refusing to cut a single dollar of federal spending to Democratic-controlled Congresses refusing to fund abortions. And guess what? Almost all of them stemmed from budget negotiations/spending appropriations since the modern budget process was established in 1974.
In other words, this is a very familiar story. Let’s take a brief history of them all.
NUMBER OF SHUTDOWNS: ONE
TOTAL DURATION: 10 DAYS
CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL: DEMOCRATIC
Citing out of control spending (Ha, he thought it was bad then?), President Gerald Ford vetoed a funding bill for the Departments of Labor and Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), leading to a government shutdown in 1976. In other words, he was trying to piecemeal spending appropriations (sound familiar?) On October 1, the Democratically-controlled Congress overrode Ford’s veto but it took until October 11 for a continuing resolution ending funding gaps for other parts of government to become law.
NUMBER OF SHUTDOWNS: FIVE
TOTAL DURATION: 57 DAYS
CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL: DEMOCRATIC
OMG, five shutdowns? Yeah. And guess what? The Democrats had full control of Washington during this time, illustrating that it can even happen when one party is calling all the shots in the House, Senate, and White House.
Believe it or not, three of the shutdowns occurred over the Democratically-controlled House continued to uphold the ban on using Medicaid dollars to pay for abortions, except in cases where the life of the mother was at stake. The Democratic-controlled Senate pressed to loosen the ban to allow abortion funding in the case of rape or incest. A funding gap was created when disagreement over the issue between the houses had become tied to funding for the Departments of Labor and HEW. A deal was eventually struck which allowed Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases resulting from rape, incest, or in which the mother’s health is at risk.
Now would you call that an “extremist” tactic to achieve the goal of funding abortions with federal tax dollars? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.
NUMBER OF SHUTDOWNS: EIGHT
TOTAL DURATION: 14 DAYS
CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL: DIVIDED
President Ronald Reagan dealt with a Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House for most of his presidency, much like the makeup of Washington today (only reversed). And hold on to your Obama phones, there were eight government shutdowns during that time — one occurring each year of his presidency. How did we survive?!
Reagan pledged that he would veto any spending bill that failed to include at least half of the $8.4 billion in domestic budget cuts that he proposed. Although the Senate passed a bill that met his specifications, the House insisted on larger cuts to defense than Reagan wanted as well as pay raises for Congress and senior civil servants. A compromise bill fell $2 billion short of the cuts Reagan wanted, so Reagan vetoed the bill and shut down the federal government in 1981. A temporary bill restored spending through December 15 and gave Congress the time to work out a more lasting deal.
In 1982, the House and Senate wished to fund job programs, but Reagan vowed to veto any such legislation. The House also opposed plans to fund the MX missile. The shutdown ended after Congress abandoned their jobs plan, but Reagan was forced to yield on funding for both the MX and Pershing II missiles. He also accepted funding for the Legal Services Corporation — which he wanted abolished — in exchange for higher foreign aid to Israel.
You know what that’s called? NEGOTIATION.
In 1984, the House wished to link the budget to both a crime-fighting package Reagan supported and a water projects package he did not. Reagan proposed a compromise where he abandoned his crime package in exchange for Congress dropping the water projects package. Congress dropped their proposed water projects in exchange for a vote on their welfare package, while Reagan kept his crime package.
Again, the president was WILLING TO NEGOTIATE.
NUMBER OF SHUTDOWNS: ONE
TOTAL DURATION: 4 DAYS
CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL: DEMOCRATIC
President George H.W. Bush vowed to veto any continuing resolution that was not paired with a deficit reduction package, and did so when one reached his desk. The House failed to override his veto before a shutdown occurred. Congress then passed a continuing resolution with a deficit reduction package to end the shutdown.
Imagine that, both sides compromising…
NUMBER OF SHUTDOWNS: TWO
TOTAL DURATION: 26 DAYS
CONGRESSIONAL CONTROL: REPUBLICAN
President Bill Clinton vetoed a continuing resolution passed by the Republican-controlled Congress. A deal was reached allowing for 75% funding for four weeks, and Clinton agreed to a seven-year timetable for a balanced budget. When Clinton proposed a budget that didn’t include the seven-year timetable using Congressional Budget Office numbers (instead he used numbers from his own Office of Management and Budget), a shutdown occurred which lasted a record 3 weeks. Eventually, Clinton and Congress compromised to pass a budget and ended up balancing the budget for the first time in 30 years.
What are the lessons to learn from all this?
Well, for starters, we’ll live. Second, every shutdown ended with both sides negotiating a compromise. Yet Democratic leaders from President Barack Obama to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have repeatedly stressed their unwillingness to negotiate or compromise on anything in the federal budget process.
How is that not extremist, especially given the history of government shutdowns?
Ironically, progressives have been preaching to me that Obama has a mandate to double down on his agenda and “doesn’t have to negotiate anything with Republicans” because he won re-election with 51% of the vote. That’s so not what I remember hearing from them when George W. Bush won re-election with 51% in 2004.
So this all boils down to Obamacare — a colossal and labyrinthian law that Democrats to this day still admit that they haven’t completely read (even though they voted for it when they were told to do so by the White House). I’ll be the first to admit that America had its last chance to get rid of the law once and for all in November of 2012 and 51% chose otherwise. There was no practical chance of repeal after that.
I don’t understand why delaying it for another year (as this administration had been doing since it was passed) was worth triggering another government shutdown — particularly since it has clearly been delaying itself with multiple technical problems since its enrollment efforts launched October 1 (despite the fact that this administration had over 3 years to prepare for this launch). And Republicans were willing to do just that to extend federal funding beyond September 30.
But as you’ve probably figured out by now, what I find to be extremist and a real threat to democracy is the hard line stance this administration has taken on negotiating or compromising on anything. Even more baffling is the fact that it’s more willing to talk with regimes that are actually hostile to U.S. interests — like Iran, Russia and Syria — than it is with their own colleagues in Washington. That’s the part that’s truly unprecedented.
This president has refused to give an inch on anything from spending to taxes to entitlements to regulations to budgets, citing his re-election mandate. Both Reagan and Clinton won second terms too, but both were willing to negotiate and compromise with the other side. That’s what real leaders do, not remain on the campaign trail fundraising for his colleagues to regain full control of Congress.