Ghosts of Fiscal Fights Past Say Don’t Surrender

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 02: Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) addresses the media after voting on the debt limit bill on August 2, 2011 in Washington, DC. The Senate voted 74-26 to approve the bill to raise the debt ceiling, allowing the U.S. to avoid default on its debts.
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
Oct. 6, 2013, 7:37 a.m.

With the gov­ern­ment shuttered and lead­ers nudging closer to the pos­sib­il­ity of a de­fault on the na­tion’s debt, law­makers are re­cog­niz­ing the les­sons of past fisc­al fights. And one in par­tic­u­lar — for bet­ter or worse — is rising above the oth­ers: Do not give in.

Con­gress flir­ted with fisc­al ru­in in 2011 be­fore lead­ers agreed to the Budget Con­trol Act and again on New Year’s Day this year, when they aver­ted the so-called fisc­al cliff. In the af­ter­math of each, each side had a pelt it could claim.

But now, lead­ers and rank-and-file mem­bers are dug in, with the path to­ward res­ol­u­tion mur­ki­er than ever.

The think­ing among Sen­ate Demo­crats is that they’d set a dan­ger­ous polit­ic­al pre­ced­ent if they were to bend to House Re­pub­lic­ans. From the Demo­crat­ic view­point, Re­pub­lic­ans are watch­ing to see how this fight plays out. Any con­ces­sions they ex­tract from Demo­crats will only give them in­cent­ives to do so again in the fu­ture.

“If we were to give in while the gov­ern­ment is shut, what do you think hap­pens on the debt ceil­ing? What do you think hap­pens when the CR has to be re­newed?” Sen. Chuck Schu­mer, D-N.Y., asked re­cently. “The hard Right says, see, by hold­ing a gun to their heads, we got something we wanted. We’ll up the ante this time.”

But Re­pub­lic­ans too have little reas­on to give in. Many con­ser­vat­ives ran on a plat­form ded­ic­ated in part to slash­ing Obama­care and claim a man­date to do just that. From their view­point, there’s little in­cent­ive to defy the con­stitu­ents who sent them to Wash­ing­ton in the first place.

“If you were one of these House guys in 2010, you ran, you beat a Demo­crat in­cum­bent and said, ‘I prom­ise I’ll go to Wash­ing­ton and re­peal Obama­care,’ ” said Sen. John Mc­Cain, R-Ar­iz. “You ex­pect them to back off?”

Demo­crats ad­mit that Re­pub­lic­ans in the House won their elec­tion. To do oth­er­wise, of course, would be to ig­nore real­ity. But they quickly point out that their reas­on for not giv­ing in that they won an elec­tion of their own — the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion.

“One of the big changes is that they had just won a huge elec­tion,” Schu­mer said. “They lost a big elec­tion in 2012.”

It’s not just the elec­tion res­ults, either, that ex­plain the polit­ic­al brink­man­ship. Re­pub­lic­ans picked a fight over what is destined to be­come a key part of Pres­id­ent Obama’s leg­acy.

“Pres­id­ent Obama views Obama­care as per­haps the most sig­nal achieve­ment of his ad­min­is­tra­tion and so there­fore he is much more com­mit­ted on this is­sue than prob­ably he would be on al­most any oth­er is­sue,” Mc­Cain said.

For law­makers, the polit­ic­al fight in 2010 over Obama­care it­self leaves bit­ter traces be­hind. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, re­mem­bers tak­ing votes at 1 a.m. and 7 a.m. without the chance to of­fer amend­ments, and today’s battle feels fa­mil­i­ar.

“It is ex­tremely grid­locked now. This is cer­tainly one of the worst times,” Collins said. “But in terms of the im­pact on the coun­try, this is far worse. Far worse.”

Asked what les­sons he’s learned from the 2011 and 2012 fisc­al fights, Sen. Carl Lev­in, D-Mich., took the op­por­tun­ity to throw a polit­ic­al stone.

“It takes lead­er­ship to end [these fights],” Lev­in said. “Speak­er Boehner is not a strong lead­er, to put it mildly.”

Lev­in, who’s re­tir­ing after 34 years in the Sen­ate, said what he’s see­ing in the cur­rent fight is un­pre­ced­en­ted.

“I’ve nev­er seen an in­ab­il­ity of a lead­er, ul­ti­mately, to do what he thinks is the right thing to do, even though 5 or 10 per­cent of his caucus doesn’t,” Lev­in said. “I’ve nev­er seen this.”

Opin­ions like Lev­in’s have been the norm with law­makers, al­beit with al­most a mir­ror im­age com­ing from many Re­pub­lic­ans.

Asked wheth­er the les­son that all law­makers had learned was really just that win­ning is the most im­port­ant goal, Collins shook her head.

“That’s what I’m try­ing to get away from,” she said. “For us just to make par­tis­an speeches on the Sen­ate floor, blast­ing one an­oth­er, doesn’t do it.”

What We're Following See More »
$618 BILLION IN FUNDING
By a Big Margin, House Passes Defense Bill
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

The National Defense Authorization Act passed the House this morning by a 375-34 vote. The bill, which heads to the Senate next week for final consideration, would fund the military to the tune of $618.7 billion, "about $3.2 billion more than the president requested for fiscal 2017. ... The White House has issued a veto threat on both the House and Senate-passed versions of the bill, but has not yet said if it will sign the compromise bill released by the conference committee this week."

Source:
SUCCEEDS UPTON
Walden to Chair Energy and Commerce Committee
1 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Republicans have elected Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR) the next chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee. Walden defeated Reps. John Shimkus (R-IL) and Joe Barton (R-TX), the former committee chairman, in the race for the gavel" to succeed Michgan's Fred Upton.

Source:
BIPARTISAN SUPPORT
Senators Looking to Limit Deportations Under Trump
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

"Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are working on legislation that would limit deportations" under President-elect Donald Trump. Leading the effort are Judiciary Committee members Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is also expected to sign on.

Source:
REQUIRES CHANGE IN LAW
Trump Taps Mattis for Defense Secretary
2 days ago
BREAKING

Donald Trump has selected retired Marine Gen. James 'Mad Dog' Mattis as his secretary of defense, according to The Washington Post. Mattis retired from active duty just four years ago, so Congress will have "to pass new legislation to bypass a federal law that states secretaries of defense must not have been on active duty in the previous seven years." The official announcement is likely to come next week.

Source:
MEASURE HEADED TO OBAMA
Senate OKs 10-Year Extension of Iran Sanctions
2 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login