The federal government did not shut down over the 2010-2011 budget approval, but none of the principals came away with gold stars. There’s a lesson there for the forthcoming battle over lifting the debt ceiling.
Political analysts and Sunday spin-doctors have blamed both sides for the standoff, but that’s not entirely accurate. Democrats are criticized for not adopting this year’s budget in October when they had majorities in the House and Senate.
That’s a justified criticism, but it omits the constant threats by Senate Republicans to filibuster any such legislation. Ever since President Obama’s election, Senate Republicans have held up bills and federal judicial appointments at a record count. No one expected they would do less on the budget bill.
When Republicans took over the House in January, House Speaker John Boehner called for $32 billion in additional cuts for this year’s budget, not next year. The Republican Tea Party contingent a day later upped the figure to $100 billion.
The two sides began negotiations, but increasingly, they began talking about a shut down in the government if they could not reach a compromise figure. There is little doubt, however, that it was Republicans who were ready to “shut ‘er down” as a Tea Party protester demanded outside the Capitol.
This call for chaos fits with the general attitude of the new Republican majority in Washington. They are looking for confrontations and are sneering at compromise.
When both sides, for example, were ready to agree on a figure, right wing conservatives began adding more demands or “riders” to the bill. These riders aimed severe cuts at traditional Republican targets, Planned Parenthood, the Public Broadcasting System, the EPA.
Indeed, Mr. Boehner needed Democratic votes in the House to approve the compromise. The final agreement settled on 38 billion dollars and no riders.
His leadership will be tested again when the Congress must approve lifting the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and others in both parties have warned about the consequences if the debt ceiling is not raised and the United States goes into default on its bills. Plunging the fragile recovery back into recession is a likely outcome.
But House Republicans are talking again about taking the economy to the brink if Mr. Obama and Congressional Democrats don’t agree to more spending cuts.
This is not a game of “chicken,” and Republicans, already losing favor with voters according to recent polls, should put the country’s welfare ahead of their itch for another confrontation. Which is what they must do in the end.