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

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 Izad
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Elahe Izad
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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