The Shutdown Is Not ‘Everybody’s Fault’

The crisis is a failure of governance, but one party is entirely to blame.

Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelsoi, D-Calif.
National Journal
Patrick Reis
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Patrick Reis
Oct. 1, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

Come crisis time, it’s the time-tested meth­od for play­ing it safe. You is­sue a mealy-mouthed state­ment about how “both sides are to blame” for not reach­ing a deal. You say both Demo­crats and Re­pub­lic­ans need to com­prom­ise, and you claim mag­nan­im­ity in your sup­port of a “bal­anced” com­prom­ise. You write “Come to­geth­er” on your cof­fee cup.

But this time around, that’s all non­sense. Where you place blame for the shut­down de­pends en­tirely on how you an­swer its fun­da­ment­al ques­tion: Do Re­pub­lic­ans have the right to de­mand policy con­ces­sions — namely, Obama­care con­ces­sions — in ex­change for ex­tend­ing the fed­er­al budget?

If you be­lieve that Re­pub­lic­ans de­serve policy con­ces­sions, then re­spons­ib­il­ity for the shut­down rests en­tirely with Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id, Pres­id­ent Obama, and their fel­low Demo­crats.

After all, when it comes to Obama­care, the run-up to shut­down saw House Re­pub­lic­ans take big steps to­ward com­prom­ise. They star­ted the de­bate de­mand­ing Obama­care be en­tirely de­fun­ded. Then they moved to a re­quest that the health care law be delayed a year and its med­ic­al-device tax per­man­ently re­pealed. And by their third and fourth at­tempts, Re­pub­lic­ans were at­tack­ing only the law’s sub­sidies for Con­gress and the ad­min­is­tra­tion — a cru­cial as­pect for belt­way res­id­ents, but a purely sym­bol­ic blow on the na­tion­al level.

All of them, from gut­ting the law to prick­ing it, got the ex­act same re­ac­tion from Re­id: no deal.

But if you be­lieve Re­pub­lic­ans are re­spons­ible for keep­ing the gov­ern­ment open, and they don’t de­serve any policy perks for do­ing so, then the shut­down blame is theirs and theirs alone.

With­in that paradigm, Re­pub­lic­ans are de­mand­ing something for noth­ing. They’re de­mand­ing changes to Obama­care without of­fer­ing to back any of Demo­crats’ top policy pri­or­it­ies. No gay mar­riage, no gun con­trol, no high­er tax rates for the highest earners, no pub­lic op­tion, no noth­ing.

And from a purely fisc­al per­spect­ive, the policy-free budget ex­ten­sion is a straight-down-the-middle com­prom­ise. It doesn’t in­clude the fur­ther spend­ing cuts Re­pub­lic­ans cov­et, nor does it in­clude any Demo­crat­ic pri­or­it­ies such as ad­di­tion­al fund­ing for do­mest­ic pro­grams or a re­verse of the se­quester.

So you can be­lieve that Re­pub­lic­ans forced a shut­down by tak­ing the gov­ern­ment host­age to muscle through changes they couldn’t get through reg­u­lar or­der. Or you can blame Demo­crats for re­fus­ing to make any changes what­so­ever to Obama­care in ex­change for keep­ing the gov­ern­ment open.

But you can’t blame them both.

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