The Phony Shutdown Showdown

By Robert Romano -

“It looks increasingly that Democrats are attempting to orchestrate a government shutdown, hoping to lay blame at the feet of Republicans, not unlike the 1995-96 shutdown.” So says Americans for Limited Government President Bill Wilson. How else to explain the fact that Senate Democrats failed to muster the votes for their own continuing resolution to keep the government open — in a body they control a majority in?

In fact, the Senate bill, which would only cut $6.2 billion, drew even less support than the minority Senate Republican plan, which would cut $57 billion from current spending levels. The Senate Democrat version failed by a vote of 42 to 58, while the Republican proposal failed by 44 votes to 56.

Wilson laid blame for the stalemate at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s feet. “Harry Reid’s failure to do his job has led to the current stalemate and the potential government shutdown, a scenario he apparently favors considering his failure to also deliver enough votes for his preferred continuing resolution,” he explained.

Last year, when Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and the White House, they failed to even try to pass a budget. They just waited until the last minute and then foisted a trillion-dollar omnibus monstrosity upon the American people that fortunately failed. The failure to adopt a real budget resulted in the short-term continuing resolutions now being passed five times this fiscal year.

Senate Democrats are now pointing to the failure of both proposals as the justification for a compromise. “Once it is plain that both parties’ opening bids in this budget debate are non-starters, we can finally get serious about sitting down and narrowing the huge gap that exists between the two sides,” said New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer at the Center for American Progress.

The goal of this approach is to get enough Senate Republicans to accept such a compromise, watering down House Republicans’ attempt to rein in spending even by a modest $57 billion. Then, the bill would go back to the House for approval. The messaging would shift to putting pressure on House Republicans to “keep the government running” by adopting the Senate measure that had passed with a few token Republicans supporting it.

House Speaker John Boehner would then have a choice, to adopt the weaker Senate version, or to stand on principle and insist on relatively larger spending cuts. If it comes to that, House Republicans should stand on principle. In the meantime, Boehner is introducing another short-term continuing resolution in the House, this time for three more weeks and cutting another $6 billion.

This comes atop the last continuing resolution that cut $4 billion, bringing the total cuts for this fiscal year up to $10 billion and Republicans on target to cut the $61 billion for the remainder of the fiscal year.

The bill seemingly would pass. Would Senate Democrats risk shutting down the government over a paltry $6 billion of cuts? They might, if they see that this practice will allow Republicans to get the full range of cuts they originally proposed, which include defunding entities like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

And then, Harry Reid will just pretend that it was Republicans who voted to shut down the government, even though it was he who failed to do his job.

Robert Romano is the Senior Editor of Americans for Limited Government.

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