By Bill Wilson -
If Congress does not adopt a continuing resolution of some sort by midnight, December 18th, non-essential services of the government will shut down. As a result, Harry Reid attempted to ram a 1924-page, $1.27 trillion omnibus spending bill through Congress before anyone had time to even read it.
Reid was apparently betting that a government shutdown will be politically bad for Republicans, and that they would capitulate rather than risk blame for it. Fortunately, Reid has now pulled it from the floor of the Senate after a deluge by the American people against the bill.
Even some conservatives had warned Republicans that if they blocked the omnibus, the American people will blame them for shutting down the government. Apparently, they didn’t consider that Democrats might actually back down.
“People are not going to go through all of the reasoning of the difference between omnibus and continuing resolution in explaining what happened,” FOX News contributor Charles Krauthammer said of a potential government shutdown on Special Report with Brett Baier on December 15th.
“They’re going to look at the television, they’re going to see the bill being read for 50 hours as a Republican request. They will see the government shut down, and they will say it’s the Republicans,” Krauthammer warned, adding, “Why would you want to invite that and give yourself a losing hand?”
Krauthammer recalled the 1995 government shutdown: “[I]t’s a revisiting of what happened with Gingrich and Clinton. Clinton was way down, he lost the midterm election, and [the shutdown] revived him.”
Although Krauthammer explained he would not mind the government being shut down, because it would save money, implicitly he was suggesting that Republicans should just allow the spending bill to pass for political reasons, no matter how bad it really was. The bill included some 6,714 earmarks costing $8.3 billion according to Senator Tom Coburn. That’s pretty bad.
In addition to the thousands of earmarks, the bill would have fully funded ObamaCare for a year. That alone should have been reason enough for Republicans, who have promised to repeal ObamaCare, to vote against it.
The bill also had contained a provision that will allow the Legal Services Corporation to engage in class action lawsuits once again and raises its budget to $440 million. The Legal Services Corporation was prohibited from engaging in such lawsuits in the 1980’s because it had become a tool for engaging in policy rather than its intended purpose of providing legal services to low-income Americans. This power has been abused in the past to shake down local, state, and federal agencies for transfer payments, as noted by the Heritage Foundation.
According to an official explanation of the provisions, the corporation intended to target banks for “predatory lending” with their new class-action powers. This is just another handout to the trial bar. The corporation just serves as the legal arm for left-wing causes and should be abolished. Instead, it was about to get a promotion under the omnibus.
Consider this: What if Krauthammer was right, and the government can never be shut down because Republicans will get blamed politically? If true, the GOP may just as well throw in the towel. Spending could never be cut then.
Fast forward to 2011, when Republicans will control the House, and Democrats control the Senate and White House. If Republicans submit a budget to slashes spending, all the Senate would have to do is hold out until September 30th when the fiscal year ends, warning that a government shutdown will be a political loser for Republicans.
Remember 1995, the mantra will be. For what it’s worth, Republicans lost the 1995-96 budget battle because of self-inflicted wounds, and because they were unwilling to make good on the threat of the government shutdown. Why go through with the shutdown if they were unwilling to go all the way?
Now we know that a government shutdown is a very credible threat for Republicans to wield in 2011 and beyond. They have leverage, and they will need to use it if they are serious about fiscal responsibility.
Nobody has any illusions that cutting the budget will be very hard. A budget has not been adopted that actually reduced spending since 1965. Before that it was 1955. And 1947 and 1946 before that as wartime spending was significantly brought down. Besides that, spending has increased every single year in modern history.
So, Congress has a choice. Does it continue to go along with the spending binge, and accept the dire risks posed to the nation? Moody’s is once again warning that the agency may switch the outlook on U.S. debt to negative next year if the nation’s fiscal house is not brought into order.
That could eventually lead to a downgrade of the Triple-A credit rating. This in turn would mean higher interest rates, an increased risk of default, and the potential that the dollar could lose its status as the world’s reserve currency. Next year, the Fed will become the number one lender in the world to the government, more than China, with over $1 trillion of treasuries. Soon, the entire debt will be larger than the economy.
Who will get the political blame for that? Which is worse, a government shutdown showdown to get spending under control, or a debt crisis?
The fact is, it may take a government shutdown to ever get spending cut again. Not merely the growth of spending reduced. But the budget actually cut. And it will certainly take Republicans standing strong. They’re the only ones who can stop the madness. For their part, some were considering supporting the bill, including Senators Bob Bennett, Kit Bond, Susan Collins, and George Voinovich.
These lawmakers must have reconsidered their support after a tremendous outcry from the American people. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pulled the bill from the floor of the Senate, he cited a lack of Republican support. Likely, the bill was also pulled because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had won the votes of Senate Democrats up for reelection in 2012 like Claire McCaskill, who came out in opposition.
Republicans need to have no illusions. Defeating the omnibus is a great victory, but there are still more challenges ahead. Now it appears Reid will push for a year-long resolution such as passed the House last week, as opposed to a short-term continuing resolution of, say, 60 days, like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed.
That’s not good enough.
Republicans need to keep the pressure on, and threaten to mount a filibuster. They will have to be willing to go to the mat, and have the government shut down, albeit temporarily, to win the day. Harry Reid may still attempt to drag this out beyond the New Year and point the finger at Republicans. If he does, the GOP needs to be prepared with a clear communications message that they are unwilling to continue adding to the debt by merely enacting 2010 spending levels for an entire year without any cuts.
Republicans now must insist on their compromise to continue funding the government at current levels for 60 days, allowing the next Congress to find a way to cut spending. Or even the 45-day resolution Senator Judd Gregg proposed. If this Congress is unwilling to cut spending, then it must be on the next Congress to do so.
If Republicans stick to that, and stand their ground, they can demonstrate to the American people that they are intent on changing the way Washington does business. Congress cannot expect the American people to continue to offer their consent if the government refuses to listen to them after they spoke so loudly just a month ago in November.
Bill Wilson is the President of Americans for Limited Government.