Lesson Learned: Government Shutdown Won’t Get You What You Want

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Senator Johnny Isakson attends NBC News Education Nation Job One Panel Discussion at Georgia Aquarium on May 7, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia.
National Journal
Elahe Izadi
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Elahe Izadi
Oct. 17, 2013, 8:19 a.m.

Call it a strategy or call it a forced res­ult, one les­son is crys­tal clear from the past two weeks: A gov­ern­ment shut­down is a ter­rible ground upon which to ex­tract ma­jor policy con­ces­sions. Every­one suf­fers.

Re­pub­lic­ans crit­ic­al of ty­ing Obama­care de­fund­ing to a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion—des­pite their own Obama­care op­pos­i­tion—have long said it won’t res­ult in a delay of the health­care law. And now they say their point has fi­nally been made on the Hill. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ar­iz., said the main takeaway from this year’s epis­ode is “we don’t need to shut down the gov­ern­ment for an­oth­er 17 years.” The last ma­jor shut­down oc­curred between 1995-1996 over a peri­od of 26 days.

“People tend to for­get that you don’t get any­thing out of it,” Flake ad­ded. “Those who needed to learn that, learned that.”

Al­though the cur­rent deal only funds the gov­ern­ment through Jan. 15, even House con­ser­vat­ives who dis­ap­proved of re­open­ing the gov­ern­ment and lift­ing the debt ceil­ing without touch­ing Obama­care are say­ing that a shut­down won’t hap­pen again.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R- Ky., said we shouldn’t ex­pect an­oth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down once that con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion ex­pires. “I don’t think you’ll see it hap­pen again, I really don’t,” he said. “Be­cause the vet­er­ans who were here [dur­ing the last shut­down], like the Steve Chabots and the Steve Stock­mans, who said the real mis­take back then was do­ing it a second time. That’s where they really lost cred­ib­il­ity.”

Only one in five law­makers were around dur­ing the shut­down of the 1990s. And if you were around dur­ing the last shut­down, you were more likely to vote to end it on Wed­nes­day night. Of the 52 cur­rent House and Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans who were in of­fice dur­ing the 1990s shut­down, less than half voted against the Sen­ate deal to re­open the gov­ern­ment.

One mem­ber of Con­gress who was around for the last shut­down is Sen. Johnny Isak­son, R-Ga., who was elec­ted to Con­gress to re­place Newt Gin­grich after his resig­na­tion fol­low­ing the fal­lout from the 1995-1996 shut­down.

Back in Septem­ber, Na­tion­al Journ­al asked Isak­son wheth­er that lack of firsthand ex­per­i­ence on the Hill dur­ing the last ma­jor shut­down ex­plains why the strategy was gain­ing such trac­tion. “All I’ll say to my col­leagues is I am here be­cause of the shut­down, be­cause Newt Gin­grich resigned two years after the shut­down and I was elec­ted to re­place him,” Isak­son said. “So shut­ting down can have its rami­fic­a­tions.”

Sen. Bob Cork­er, R-Tenn., cited an old ad­age when pre­dict­ing wheth­er an­oth­er shut­down will hap­pen again in a couple of months: “There’s noth­ing to be learned from the second kick of the mule,” he said Wed­nes­day night. “Maybe there’s been a little bit of an edu­ca­tion.”

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