For now, the crisis that has gripped the political world for weeks is over. The federal government is re-opening; the Treasury will be able to pay the nation’s bills; federal workers are heading back to their jobs; and officials are already turning their attention to what they’ll try to accomplish next.
But there’s a nagging realization lingering in the background: our collective relief is temporary. It’s possible congressional Republicans will try this again in early 2014. Whether they spare Americans from a sequel depends on largely on what lessons they’ve learned from this experience.
Common sense suggests this should be easy, even for GOP lawmakers. After creating a crisis for reasons that are still unclear, and seeing their popularity plummet, one would like to assume Republicans would be saying to themselves, “Well, let’s never do that again!”
But Dave Weigel talked to several House Republicans yesterday afternoon, and that’s not quite the sentiment they shared.
[S]ome Republicans were declaring a victory of sorts – maybe not now, but down the road – for what the media had already judged to be a historic debacle. They had revealed President Obama to be a cynical political operator. They had proved to voters that they did everything they could to stop Obamacare. When the next spending fight comes around, they insisted that enduring this shutdown would strengthen their position.“It depends on whether or not we’re able to articulate why we did what we did,” said South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a conservative who voted against Boehner for speaker but sings hosannas for him now. “We believe we did it for the right reasons. We believe it was good policy. We believe good policy makes good politics. But we have to be able to explain that policy in order to accomplish it. I did an interview with a local radio station back home a week ago, and it started with them saying it was ‘just seven days until default.’ That was an indication that our message was not getting out.”
In fairness, it’s worth emphasizing that plenty of Republicans, especially in the Senate, consider this folly. But there’s nevertheless a meaningful contingent of GOP lawmakers who still think, even now, that this fiasco wasn’t that bad, and if the party’s talking points had been more effective, they would have felt less political pressure to cave.
The problem, of course, is that this is the wrong lesson. Especially now, when their spectacular failures are still fresh in their minds, Republican lawmakers should probably be coming to terms with some basic truths: government shutdowns are a very bad idea; threatening Americans with deliberate harm is an even worse idea; and trying to govern through extortion strategies has no place in the American system of government.
Instead we’re hearing GOP officials complain that the media is largely to blame.
Worse, as TPM reported, some congressional Republicans are convinced they didn’t go far enough.
They aren’t angry with Speaker John Boehner for ultimately capitulating to Democratic demands. They’re frustrated with their more mainstream colleagues who put him in that position.“I’m more upset with my Republican conference, to be honest with you. It’s been Republicans here who apparently always want to fight, but they want to fight the next fight, that have given Speaker Boehner the inability to be successful in this fight,” Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID) told reporters Wednesday. “So if anybody should be kicked out, it’s probably those Republicans… who are unwilling to keep the promises they made to the American people. Those are the people who should be looking behind their back.
If congressional Republicans don’t understand what caused their mistakes, chances are good congressional Republicans will repeat those mistakes.
“I’m not prepared to suggest that this has been a complete loss,” Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) said last night.
Congresswoman, whether you’re prepared to suggest it or not, it was a complete loss.
Update: Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) vowed last night, “We’re going to start this all over again.” This is, of course, precisely the problem.