Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Start of the government shutdown

By Frank Moraes 

I haven't had much to say about the government shutdown, because, hey, there isn't a lot to say. But after the first day, there are a few things. I have to admit to being a bit concerned about how the shutdown is playing in the press. Ed Kilgore provided a number of headlines that, intentional or not, feed the Republican narrative. The most obvious partisanship came from Fox News, of course: "Partial Shutdown Begins: Can Congress, White House Compromise?" That one's fun because it pushes the Fox News idea that is everywhere in their coverage this isn't a real shutdown but only a "slimdown." If only Newt had had the help of Fox News in 1995!

What's more generally worrisome about these headlines is that the Republican position is simply that they want compromise. But the issue here is not one of negotiation. This is extortion. It is wrong to say, "The parents don't want to pay any money and the kidnappers want two million dollars; why can't they just compromise?!" That's what's going on. None of the other headlines use the word "compromise," but they are all have similar "both sides now" coverage. For example, the Washington Post headline was: "In Shutdown Blame Game, Democrats and Republicans United: It's the Other Side's Fault." Because each side says that they are right, the good "objective" reports can't look at the actual facts and determine who is right. Our mainstream press is fully in the grip of postmodern analysis, "Who can say which side is right? It's just a matter of opinion!"

Meanwhile, in the trenches, we have Ted Cruz pushing the idea that we should just break up the Federal budget and fund the things we really like. You know, it's really sad that Yosemite is closed on its birthday, so let's open that. Of course, as Matt Yglesias correctly points out, the whole purpose (on both sides) is that a government shutdown is supposed to be painful. I'll go further: Cruz's idea is a typical conservative gambit. The idea is to restart programs that might hurt the rich and middle classes (e.g. the national parks) to take off the pressure to ever start back up programs that help the poor. He is an evil little man.

In a separate article, Yglesias had a much better idea, Democrats Should Reject a "Clean" CR. He says it is madness to just restart the government, only to have another crisis two weeks later. So the Democrats should finally start making some demands of their own. Truly, this would have been a good idea a long time ago. As discussed above, there is some pressure from the press to push the Democrats to make some concessions to the Republicans. With a demand for a repeal of the Debt Ceiling, there would be some room to negotiate. In that case, the Republicans might be very lucky to get out of this with a clean continuing resolution (CR).

Speaking of the Debt Ceiling, yesterday Dean Baker answered a question that has been gnawing at me for a couple of weeks, "October 17th and a Government Shutdown Don't Mix." Before the government shutdown, Jack Lew said that the government would run into the Debt Ceiling on 17 October. But doesn't the government shutdown move that date further out? Indeed it does. As Baker notes, "Depending on how much spending goes out the door, it is possible that the government is not even borrowing at all during the period of shutdown." Regardless, it means that at most the Debt Ceiling crisis will come a couple of weeks after the government reopens. So Yglesias' idea still makes a lot of sense.

Finally, a lot of people are reporting that most of the House Republican caucus has long wanted to vote for a clean CR. In fact, the number sits at 175 Republicans who would do so. Now is this credible? Is Boehner's interpretation of the Hastert Rule that a majority of his caucus must vote for a bill before it goes to the floor, but the majority doesn't necessarily mean it willgo to the floor? In other words, the majority can stop action but it can't start it? Jonathan Bernstein is having none of it. He sums up the House Republican caucus thusly: 

True Believers: 30
Primary Paranoid: 20
Fraidy Cat Conference: 175 

The True Believers are those people who are crazy -- the ones who think that we go from Obamacare directly to gas chambers. The Primary Paranoid (my name) are those who rightfully worry that they will be primaried from the right and thus might as well be considered part of the True Believers. The Fraidy Cat Conference are those who know that the shutdown is bad and who want to tell reporters off the record that they think so. But they don't want to do it publicly and don't even want the others in the caucus to know where they stand lest the information get out and tarnish their reputations.

Maybe it is best to say that the caucus is divided in two: the True Believers and all the other people who are afraid that it might come out that they are not True Believers. Regardless, the fact that the vast majority of the caucus secretly wants to end this government shutdown is a good sign. Jennifer Bendery is keeping a list of the House Republicans who have publicly stated that they will vote for a clean CR. It is up to 12 as I write this. A total of 17 is needed for one to be sure to pass the House. But of course, that isn't the number that will force Boehner to allow a vote on it. Jonathan Bernstein says, "My guess is the line would be some number greater than 25 and fewer than 60." Whatever it is, I hope to see the number calling for a clean CR increasing over the next few days.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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