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
Add to Briefcase
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.

What We're Following See More »
FCC Tightens Internet Privacy Standards
3 hours ago

Along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted to tighten privacy standards for Internet service providers. "The regulations will require providers to receive explicit customer consent before using an individual’s web browsing or app usage history for marketing purposes. The broadband industry fought to keep that obligation out of the rules."

Obama Commutes Another 98 Sentences
4 hours ago

President Obama commuted the sentences of another 98 drug offenders on Thursday. Most of the convicts were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs or possession with intent to distribute. Many of the sentences were commuted to expire next year, but some will run longer. Others are required to enroll in residential drug treatment as a condition of their release.

DOJ Busts More Than 50 for Call Center Scam
4 hours ago

The Department of Justice announced today it's charged "61 individuals and entities for their alleged involvement in a transnational criminal organization that has victimized tens of thousands of persons in the United States through fraudulent schemes that have resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. In connection with the scheme, 20 individuals were arrested today in the United States and 32 individuals and five call centers in India were charged for their alleged involvement. An additional U.S.-based defendant is currently in the custody of immigration authorities."

Johnson on Ballot Everywhere, Followed by Stein, McMullin
6 hours ago
Is McMullin Building the GOP in Exile?
8 hours ago

Evan McMullin, the independent conservative candidate who may win his home state of Utah, is quietly planning to turn his candidacy into a broader movement for principled conservatism. He tells BuzzFeed he's "skeptical" that the Republican party can reform itself "within a generation" and that the party's internal "disease" can't be cured via "the existing infrastructure.” The ex-CIA employee and Capitol Hill staffer says, “I have seen and worked with a lot of very courageous people in my time [but] I have seen a remarkable display of cowardice over the last couple of months in our leaders.” McMullin's team has assembled organizations in the 11 states where he's on the ballot, and adviser Rick Wilson says "there’s actually a very vibrant market for our message in the urban northeast and in parts of the south."


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.