On Capitol Hill, the congressional Republican leadership, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are doing their best to play the role of grown-ups. GOP leaders realize that many of their far-right members are eager for a government shutdown in two weeks, but Boehner and McConnell are preaching patience and levelheadedness.
If the Republican leadership is looking for some help from the party’s presidential candidates, however, last night’s debate made one thing clear: they can forget it.
Here, for example, was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) on the subject:
“Absolutely we shouldn’t be sending $500 million of taxpayer money to funding an ongoing criminal enterprise, and I’ll tell you, the fact that Republican leadership in both houses has begun this discussion by preemptively surrendering to Barack Obama and saying, ‘We’ll give in because Obama threatens a veto.’“You know, Obama’s committed to his principles. His liberal principles, he will fight for them. He says, ‘I will veto any budget that doesn’t fund Planned Parenthood,’ and Republicans surrender. We need to stop surrendering and start standing for our principles.”
In fairness, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), who helped orchestrate the 1995 shutdown during his tenure in Congress, conceded last night that his party’s strategy won’t work.
But he was alone. Before and after the debate, several notable candidates – including Ben Carson, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina – offered support for the far-right strategy that seems likely to shut down the government at the end of this month.
And if you’re feeling a sense of deja vu at this point, that’s understandable.
The Washington Post touched on an important point the other day that’s worth appreciating in detail: “The once-normal process of approving a stopgap bill that keeps the federal government operating on the previous year’s fiscal budget has become anything but routine during House Speaker John A. Boehner’s five-year tenure. This latest showdown, like its recent predecessors, is another example that brinksmanship – involving countdown clocks and advisories to federal workers about the possible expiration of funding on Sept. 30 – is the new normal.”
How normal is it? Let’s revisit the list we put together the last time congressional Republicans threw a tantrum.
* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation’s debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.
* September 2013: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* October 2013: Republicans actually shut down the government.
* February 2014: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.
* December 2014: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* February 2015: Republicans threaten a Department of Homeland Security shutdown.
* September 2015: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
A couple of years ago, the Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty highlighted the “cumulative effect of almost three years of governing by near-death experience.” That was in 2013. Now we’re up to nearly five years of near-death experiences.
It’s my hope that the political world, prone to cynicism, doesn’t just accept this as routine – because it’s not. There is no precedent in the American tradition for a governing party careening, over and over again, from one self-imposed crisis to the next. It shouldn’t be accepted as normal; it should be seen as a genuine scandal that weakens democratic norms.
As we talked about in March, partisan bickering and gridlock may be timeless, but there’s never been an era in which the United States Congress tried to function this way.
That is, until January 2011.
Disclosure: My wife works for Planned Parenthood, but she played no role in this piece.