Historically, the Republican Party has been about as good at messaging as they have been bad at governing — which is to say, the GOP's ability to coordinate and stay on message, no matter how ludicrous the message, is something to be awed and feared in the political world.
The fight over the government shutdown has been no exception, as GOP talking points have spun tall tales and fanciful myths attempting to lay the blame for a shutdown the GOP began planning months ago squarely at the feet of President Obama and congressional Democrats. In an effort to restore some semblance of factual reality to the conversation, I’ve attempted to provide some clarity and debunk popular GOP myths surrounding the ongoing shutdown and debt ceiling crisis.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter at @markskogan
Myth #1 - Democrats refuse to compromise on anything
Perhaps the most misleading of all Republican talking points over the last week has been the allegation that Democrats are refusing to compromise on their budget position. The facts are simply the exact opposite.
The continuing resolution (CR) being debated was proposed by none other than Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) himself in July. Boehner’s proposed CR number was the compromise position. The Democrats agreed to a budget $220 billion below the president’s request and almost $100 billion below the previously Senate passed budget. Hell, the House GOP budget CR currently being referred to as the “clean” bill is more than $100 billion below the Paul Ryan budget proposal. It’s $2 billion below George W. Bush’s last budget proposal, meaning that if we pass it, we would be funding government at 2008 levels — that’s hardly a position Democrats are happy with.
Democrats already compromised multiple times in the months leading up to the shutdown in an effort to avoid it. They agreed to the Republican budget number and requested that the GOP sit at the table to help target the cuts or negotiate their implementation, Republicans refused 19 times. To then turn around and claim Democrats refuse to negotiate because Republicans demand they undo a law passed by Congress, upheld by the Supreme Court, and ratified by popular vote in the last presidential election is neither a reasonable nor a sane position.
Myth #2 - There aren’t enough GOP votes to pass a clean CR
The votes are there. Six separate news agencies have whip counts based on verbal confirmation from House GOPers that put the clean CR comfortably in the “passing” column. What’s lacking is collective courage from Boehner and the GOP moderates to buck Tea Party threats and pressure and join forces with the Democrats to move a clean CR through.
There’s a reason that Boehner hasn’t brought the bill to the floor to prove his point — he knows it would pass and the bubbling civil war within the House GOP caucus would formally erupt.
Myth #3 - The GOP wants to have budget negotiations but the Democrats refuse
In the final hours of the effort to avoid a shutdown, Republicans trotted out a novel suggestion — suddenly, with literally minutes before the government would close for the first time in 17 years, they wanted to sit down and talk. More specifically, the GOP wanted to move to a formal budget conference between the House and Senate, the mechanism that helps reconcile differences between House and Senate budget bills in the normal budgeting process. As one might expect, budget conferences take a considerable amount of time as both sides hammer out details and negotiate compromises, so the offer to sit down for a conference was never meant to be a “real” offer. The House GOP’s presentation of an all-white, all-male negotiating team certainly didn’t help their image either.
What makes the GOP’s demand for sit-down talks even more ridiculous is that the Senate Democrats have been asking for a budget conference since April. In fact, Senate Democrats have formally requested sit-down talks over the budget 19 times in the last six months. Republicans, in particular Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Mike Lee (R-Utah), and Marco Rubio (R-Florida), have turned down these requests out of fear of having to negotiate over the debt ceiling. This makes the House GOP call for negotiations and criticism of Democrats ridiculous, as they have stonewalled all talks, while simultaneously complaining that Democrats wouldn’t pass a budget. The reason a budget hasn’t been passed? Because the GOP has refused to negotiate.
Myth #4 - Democrats don’t want to fund veterans/ parks/ children/ puppies/ happiness
Democrats are happy to fund all parts of government. In fact, that’s what they’ve been calling for since April. They want to fund the easy things, like parks and veterans, but they also understand the importance of funding less politically palatable stuff like IRS auditors and food stamps. What Democrats aren’t willing to do is allow Republicans to play political games that don't fully reopen the shuttered government in an effort to blame Democrats and score political points. The Senate has repeatedly passed a “clean” CR that would open up parks and restore funding to veterans. On top of that, no House Democrats have expressed opposition to the Senate CR, even though it funds the government at sequester levels that most liberal democrats strongly oppose.
Democrats have been calling for a vote all-week. Republicans are too scared to give them one because they know the budget would pass, government would re-open, and they’d wear the blame for forcing a shutdown over petty partisan politics and sour grapes. The GOP is too busy taking photo-ops in front of memorials they closed rather than taking a 30 minute vote to re-open them.
Myth #5 - Democrats are fighting to protect special exemptions for themselves and their friends
A popular talking point for GOP flacks trying to deflect the blame from their bosses has been that Democrats are fighting to protect “special deals” for Congress on Obamacare. This is a completely fabricated position, born from the total re-framing of the health care debate going back to the ACA’s tumultuous days in Congress.
The issue comes from the requirement that congressional staffers sign up for the health care exchanges set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the same as other Americans without other health care options. However, under the original language of the ACA, congressional staffers were not allowed to have employer subsidies for their health coverage. That means that not only would staff in Congress be stripped of the ability to choose what kind of health care they purchase, they wouldn’t enjoy a benefit that nearly every other employed American gets. This would amount to a pay-cut of $5,000 to $12,000 per year, a huge chunk of change for staff whose pay is in the 30k range and would put limitations on Congress not applied to any other private sector employer. The "exemption" simply states that congressional offices can continue to provide an employer subsidy to staff health insurance purchases if they want to. This simply applies the same rules to congressional staff as to the private sector — so the "exemption" actually equalizes an overly harsh playing field, but you wouldn't know it if you only listened to the GOP talk about it.
And don’t forget, Boehner actively tried to save these exemptions for his staff behind the scenes while publicly blasting them, because he knew that it wasn't fair to his staff or good policy if the goal was to keep talented people working on the Hill.
Did I miss some myths? Did I get my facts wrong? Let me know on Twitter at @markskogan