With the passage of a $1.1 trillion spending bill that fails to defund President Obama’s immigration amnesty plan (as promised), it seems many Republicans still believe in Beltway fairy tales. If President Obama had shut down the government by vetoing an appropriations bill that didn’t fund the president’s amnesty plan, so the fairy tale goes, Republicans would be blamed and damaged politically.
There’s just one problem with this fairy tale: the 2014 election results.
Nobody blamed Republicans for a shutdown in 2013, and nobody cared. The Washington establishment fears big bad shutdowns because they illustrate to the rest of the country that they can get along just fine without Washington.
I never saw a United States Park Service vehicle until the day I saw federal employees putting up barricades to block parking spaces on the George Washington Parkway during the last government shutdown. It was shutdown theater. Nobody blamed Republicans. Nobody cared.
That’s the real reason the Washington establishment fears a shutdown. Government shutdowns illustrate how inessential Washington is to the lives of ordinary Americans.
As my former Justice Department colleague Hans von Spakovsky pointed out in August 2013 when a similar funding fight over Obamacare was looming, leaders in the House majority were misreading their own party’s political history:
Speaker John Boehner warned that a defunding amendment might lead to a government shutdown and then reportedly reminded the Republicans of the supposed political backlash over the government shutdowns in 1995-96.
Remember 1996? That was when four networks dominated the news cycle and almost nobody used the internet for information. Back then, Matt Drudge was bundling the latest headlines on Usenet to a whopping 50,000 readers.
Even in that obsolete media environment, the shutdown didn’t hurt Republicans, and helped the country. Those 1990s shutdowns resulted from budget fights between Pres. Bill Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was trying to bring down the budget deficit, a noble and principled endeavor.
In fact, in the presidential election of 1996 in which voters rejected Republican Bob Dole and reelected Bill Clinton, Republicans only lost eight seats – the first time Republicans had maintained their majority control of the House of Representatives in almost 70 years. They actually gained two seats in the Senate in spite of a Democratic presidential incumbent. Better yet, the federal government was restrained by the GOP’s principled stand.
Out of these positive events, a dark fairy tale emerged, one that still haunts the GOP congressional leadership.