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.”