Republicans Lost the Shutdown Battle, but They’re Winning the Fiscal War

Note to conservatives licking their wounds over the shutdown fight: You’re winning the larger battle over the nation’s fiscal policy.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) pumps his fist after leaving a meeting of House Republicans at the U.S. Capitol October 16, 2013.
National Journal
Michael Hirsh
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Michael Hirsh
Oct. 19, 2013, 5:47 a.m.

If there’s one thing just about every­one can agree on, it’s that the Re­pub­lic­ans lost this fight — and badly. They sur­rendered on every point, ex­cept for a minor an­ti­fraud meas­ure that will not al­ter the course of the Obama­care jug­ger­naut by an inch. They are in such polit­ic­al dis­ar­ray that even though John Boehner will al­most cer­tainly sur­vive as speak­er, he’s so thor­oughly lost con­trol of his caucus that there is, ef­fect­ively, no one run­ning the House any­way. All in all, the Great Shut­down Show­down was “a dead end for the GOP,” ran the head­line of a glee­fully fu­ner­eal post­mortem by The Wash­ing­ton Post‘s Dana Mil­bank, sum­ming up the con­ven­tion­al wis­dom in Wash­ing­ton.

Wrong.

When it comes to policy, it is still the Re­pub­lic­ans — that is, the tea party, the GOP’s new beat­ing heart — who are still largely set­ting the agenda. That’s not about to change. They lost on Obama­care, true enough, and ex­cept for a hard-core sub-minor­ity of the tea-party fac­tion, it’s un­likely Re­pub­lic­ans will be stu­pid enough to try to wage that fu­tile fight again. But even with this polit­ic­al set­back, the tea parti­ers have made the se­quester and debt-ceil­ing fights the new nor­mal in Wash­ing­ton, as we will find out again in just a few months when the next dead­line is reached.

In­deed, go­ing back to 2010, when the GOP took con­trol of the House, nearly everything has gone or more less the Re­pub­lic­ans’ way on fisc­al is­sues — they got the Bush tax cuts locked in (ex­cept on the highest earners), gov­ern­ment spend­ing re­duced, and the se­quester im­posed. Des­pite Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id’s ef­forts to rene­go­ti­ate the se­quester, Obama in ef­fect has con­ceded he can live with its across-the-board spend­ing levels: In Septem­ber, the White House an­nounced it would ap­prove a House Re­pub­lic­an spend­ing bill that kept the gov­ern­ment fun­ded at cur­rent levels as long as lan­guage that would de­fund Obama­care was stripped out.

In a longer time frame, all this must be coun­ted as a vic­tory. In­creas­ingly, the tea party is look­ing like the Bolshev­iks to Boehner’s Men­shev­iks, with the Demo­crats play­ing the role of the wobbly czar­ist re­gime (des­pite Obama’s show of tough­ness this time around). And if you re­call, the Bolshev­iks — the most zeal­ous, no-com­prom­ise re­volu­tion­ar­ies, in oth­er words — were the ones who gained the power in the end. What of the polls and the 2014 elec­tion? That’s an­oth­er reas­on Demo­crats are de­clar­ing vic­tory, of course. Some are even de­li­ri­ously sens­ing a pos­sible takeover of the House. But that’s highly un­likely either, along with the much-hoped-for dis­ap­pear­ance of the tea party. Re­mem­ber: The tea-party ad­her­ents in the House just don’t care about the polls. At home, in their scar­let-red dis­tricts, they’re still be­loved. The only thing most of them worry about is wheth­er they are far-right enough to sur­vive a primary chal­lenge. And as long as the cur­rent ger­ry­mandered con­gres­sion­al map re­mains in place, that’s prob­ably all they’re go­ing to have to worry about.

If you’re hav­ing a hard time buy­ing this ar­gu­ment, let’s take stock. The Demo­crats are de­clar­ing vic­tory for two reas­ons. First, they fol­lowed a re­mark­ably dis­cip­lined strategy that had the pres­id­ent and Re­id look­ing like con­joined twins, both in­sist­ing they wouldn’t ne­go­ti­ate un­til “the gov­ern­ment opens and pays its bills.” They got most of what they wanted, in what must be coun­ted as a sub­stan­tial polit­ic­al vic­tory that will en­hance the repu­ta­tions of both men.

Second, once the Re­pub­lic­ans lost the Obama­care part of the fight and moved onto spend­ing and se­quest­ra­tion, the Demo­crats man­aged to turn back a com­prom­ise offered by GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that would have ex­ten­ded a con­tinu­ing res­ol­u­tion on fund­ing the gov­ern­ment to March 2014. The Demo­crats wanted, and got, a short­er time frame, os­tens­ibly so they would be in a bet­ter po­s­i­tion to rene­go­ti­ate the second year of se­quester cuts, which be­gin in Janu­ary.

Still, the Demo­crats’ ac­count­ing of their tri­umphs misses the big­ger point. The real fight here was not about the shut­down, as un­com­fort­able as that was for the hun­dreds of thou­sands of fur­loughed fed­er­al em­ploy­ees and for oth­ers who rely on gov­ern­ment ser­vices. It was about the debt ceil­ing. Some Demo­crats have likened the tea parti­ers to ter­ror­ists tak­ing the na­tion host­age. Now they are ter­ror­ists who have ob­tained a weapon of mass de­struc­tion. They’ve dis­covered they can scare every­body if they threaten to put the na­tion’s en­tire 237-year repu­ta­tion on the line. And wheth­er or not Obama will re­fuse to ne­go­ti­ate again, the next na­tion­al host­age crisis is not far off, since the debt ceil­ing has been ex­ten­ded un­til only Feb. 7. This short win­dow al­lows Re­pub­lic­ans to simply re­sur­rect the battle and to dic­tate terms, which they’ll be able to do as long as they stick to spend­ing rather than quix­ot­ic bids to roll back the Af­ford­able Care Act.

The more-reas­on­able Rep. Paul Ry­an, chair­man of the House Budget Com­mit­tee, will prob­ably now take the lead on the tea-party agenda, but he is likely to re­main their creature. Ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice, un­til the House forced the Budget Con­trol Act on Obama back in 2011, Con­gress had raised the debt lim­it 5 times since 2001, and in every case it was lif­ted by a year or more. Now we ap­pear to be do­ing it every few months. That gives the tea party ex­actly the in­stru­ment it wants to wreak hav­oc not once, but sev­er­al times, a year. Nor are Demo­crats, des­pite their best hopes, likely to get any­where in rene­go­ti­at­ing the se­quester, which slices an­oth­er $21 bil­lion from the budget in an across-the-board way in 2014.

Want fi­nal proof of who’s set­ting the agenda? On Wed­nes­day, as Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­an Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell began his speech on the dra­mat­ic last-minute deal that saved the coun­try’s cred­it (for the mo­ment), CNN and much of the rest of the me­dia cut to “¦ Sen. Ted Cruz, mak­ing yet an­oth­er dem­agogic speech of his own. That, too, was a tea-party vic­tory.

What We're Following See More »
THEM’S FIGHTIN’ WORDS
Earnest: Overriding Obama’s Veto Was “Embarrassing”
39 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Hyperbole alert! Following the Senate's decision to override President Obama's veto of a bill that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court, the White House has responded forcefully, specifically White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest. "I would venture to say that this is the single most embarrassing thing that the United States Senate has done, possibly, since 1983," Earnest said on Air Force One. The House is likely to follow suit in overriding Obama's veto when it takes up the vote.

Source:
FIRST TIME IN OBAMA’S PRESIDENCY
Senate Overrides Obama’s Veto
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
TRIBUTES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Former Israeli President & PM Shimon Peres Dies at 93
5 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Two weeks after a massive stroke, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president and prime minister of Israel Shimon Peres passed away late Tuesday night. In a political, military, and diplomatic career that lasted nearly 70 years, Peres was influential both in building up the formidable strength of the Israeli military and in seeking to negotiate lasting peace with Israel's many neighboring Arab countries. Within hours of the announcement of his death, both condolences and tributes began pouring in, including from former President Bill Clinton, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.

AFRAID HE’S TAKING SUPPORT FROM CLINTON
Democrats Taking Aim at Gary Johnson
5 hours ago
WHY WE CARE

"Democrats panicked by third-party candidates drawing support away from Hillary Clinton are ramping up their attacks against Gary Johnson and warning that a vote for a third party is a vote for Donald Trump. Liberal groups are passing around embarrassing videos of Johnson and running ads against him warning about his positions on issues like climate change that are important to young voters and independents."

Source:
RUSSIA DENIES
Dutch Investigators: MH17 Was Downed by Russian Launcher
5 hours ago
THE LATEST

Russo-Western relations are getting thornier all the time. "Dutch-led criminal investigators said Wednesday they have solid evidence that a Malaysian jet was shot down by a Buk missile moved into eastern Ukraine from Russia. Wilbert Paulissen, head of the Central Crime Investigation department of the Dutch National Police, said communications intercepts showed that pro-Moscow rebels had called for deployment of the mobile surface-to-air weapon, and reported its arrival in rebel-controlled areas of eastern Ukraine." Russia, of course, is denying culpability.

Source:
×