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Lessons from the shutdown

Everything has probably been said about the government shutdown, but not everyone has said it. So here are my 6 cents:

1. A majority of House Republicans were either irresponsible enough to destroy the nation’s economy or ignorant. At least two — Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) and Ted Yoho (R-Fla.) — demonstrated beyond a doubt that they fall in the latter category by arguing that default would actually improve America’s credit rating. More than 60 percent of the House Republican Caucus and 40 percent the GOP Senate Caucus fell into one of those two categories, voting in favor of default.

2. As the Founders predicted, the Senate and the House are different. The House is closer to the rough-and-tumble of electoral politics, while the Senate is a bit more removed. Hence, after more than two weeks of government shutdown, as the nation stood on the precipice of default, only 18 percent of senators voted to shove the country into the economic abyss, while 34 percent of House members voted for default.

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3. Republican “moderates” proved, at best, a bit chicken. A few so-called GOP moderates, who are actually much more extreme than their predecessors, spoke out in favor of keeping the government open and against the tactics of shutdown and default. Despite wringing their hands in public about the political consequences, they were unwilling to lift a finger to act in support of their expressed beliefs. Unlike the Senate, the House is governed by majoritarian rules. They are rarely used, but they do exist. Yet not one Republican was willing to sign a discharge petition that, with 218 signatures, would have brought to the floor the “clean bill” they said they favored, and not one was willing to join Democrats in voting to recommit the GOP bills with instructions, which would have had the effect of producing a “clean” continuing resolution.

4. All this notwithstanding, none of the Republicans are completely crazy. Both the House and Senate votes required unanimous consent to prevent running out the clock to default. It would not have changed the outcome — just delayed it — and would have done irreparable damage. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) flirted with the idea of blocking a timely vote, an act that would have earned him space in the psych ward next to “Homeland’s” Carrie Mathison. But in the end, no House member and no senator dared stop the march to prevent default once the deal was done. It’s cold comfort, but if one is searching hard for some sign of sanity, there it is.

5. While President Obama is certainly right in maintaining there are no winners here, the GOP is surely a loser. Before the shutdown, many wondered whether Republicans would be hurt any more than Democrats. Now the data are in, and the conclusion is inescapable. For the first time, the CNN/ORC poll found a majority calling GOP control of the House bad for the country — an 11-point increase since December. An earlier 4-point Democratic lead in the generic vote ballooned to 8 points. Fifty-six percent of independents say the GOP is too extreme; a mere 14 percent of them think most Republican members of Congress deserve reelection. Every indicator suggests it’s been a disaster for the GOP. The damage to the brand is clear. Less clear is its ultimate electoral impact.

6. Brinkmanship is built into the process. The same final agreement could have been reached a month before the shutdown, a day before, or any day during the shutdown. But neither Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) nor Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) could have taken it to their caucuses any earlier, as members would have claimed waiting would bring a “better deal.”

One thing we don’t yet know is whether, with all that, January will bring yet another shutdown. GOP leaders say it won’t, but it seems that many, if not all, of these leaders are just followers in disguise.
 
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has worked for Democratic candidates and causes since 1982. Current clients include the majority leader of the Senate and the Democratic whip in the House.