Some thoughts on the looming government shutdown

It looks like we’re only 10 to 12 hours away from a shut down of the federal government. Neither side has come to an agreement on what the final budget bill would look like, though it looks like another Continuing Resolution – a measure that would carry over spending from the previous year for a specified amount of time – will be taken up in the Senate. It passed the House yesterday with some Democratic members support it (Georgia Dems John Barrow and Sanford Bishop were among the affirmative votes).

Here are some thoughts and observations on the possible shutdown:

– If Republicans make this about social issues, as it is being suggested they are, they will take a hit. Republicans are right to object to taxpayer funding of abortion. However, social issues are not on the mind of the electorate. This angle, as principled as it may be, is a political loser. The focus should be on how Democrats and President Barack Obama cannot find any program worth cutting at a time when we are running a $1.6 trillion deficit.

– Republicans holding out for $31 billion in spending cuts is like putting a band-aid on a gunshot wound. As my good friend Doug Mataconis said today, wasting political capital on a short-term budget solution is pretty dumb. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) just presented an ambitious, though intriguing, budget plan that is going to take an enormous amount of political will and capital to push through, even if there are compromises along the way. Not to mention that the current budget fix only takes us through the end of the current fiscal year. The 2012 budget battle is next up and the ground work is just being laid into place.

– Regarding spending cuts, it’s hard to take the GOP seriously when they’re leaving defense spending off the table, which has essentially become an entitlement program for lobbyists. I’m not suggesting that we not properly fund the military, though I’d like to see our troops come home from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the defense budget is bloated and should be cut just as much as other areas of the budget.

– The blame for the failure to pass a budget this year is not, absolutely not, on Republicans. The last Congress, which saw overwhelming majorities for Democrats in both chambers, was tasked with this responsibility. They failed, and the GOP is left to pick up the pieces. Of course, the GOP has a new found sense of fiscal responsibility – they weren’t particularly concerned with runaway spending during George W. Bush’s presidency. But that is why divided government is desired, it slows everything down.

– The government shutdown in 1995 did not hurt Republicans in the 1996 election. I don’t care what anyone says. Yes, they lost seats. But as economist and political observer Stephen Slivinski notes, “After looking at the election results of the ‘96 congressional election, in that election the GOP lost about a net two seats in the House, Linda Killian, who is a reporter for National Public Radio, certainly no redoubt Republican apologist, concluded the election really can’t be seen as a repudiation of the ‘94 revolution. The dozen freshman or so who lost in their specific races did so for the reason that most candidates lose, they really weren’t that good as candidates. In fact, if you look at the freshman that were the most hardcore on cutting spending, they actually increased their vote totals. That’s especially astonishing since, one, Clinton was actually able to gain traction politically in those specific districts and labor unions actually spent about $35 million trying unseat many of the GOP reformers.”

Most of the seats lost in 1996 came from states that were already trending Democrat or were from swing states. Bill Clinton was still popular, despite the electoral rebuke in 1994. And let’s face it, Bob Dole wasn’t exactly the type of candidate that excited voters to go to polls.

The electoral consequences from a government shutdown will be negligible for the GOP. Some House Republicans will lose, though whether the party as a whole will gain or lose seats in 2012 is up for debate (no one can say with any certainty due to redistricting), but I would submit to you that just 1996, any loses will be mostly limited to members that were likely to lose anyway.