Saxby Chambliss: Good hustle, Tea Party, but government shutdowns don't work

AP Photo/Cliff Owen
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss has seen this episode before—you know, the one where Republicans try and shut down the government to stop spending.

"I appreciate Ted Cruz's enthusiasm and what not," he said on Wednesday. "We've been down that road, we shut down the government, you remember it well, and we got our butt kicked for shutting down the government."

Indeed, while Chambliss was serving in the House of Representatives, Republicans sent then-President Bill Clinton a budget in 1995 that included, most contentiously, big cuts to Medicare. Republicans were slammed for their involvement in the shutdown that left hundreds of thousands of federal employees furloughed for days.

Morning Joe host Joe Scarborough served as a Republican representative from Florida during the 1995 shutdown. He pushed back against the Tea Party threats, too, calling it one of the "stupidest" arguments he's heard in two decades.

"We've got a president that's gonna celebrate Republicans making the same mistake back when we shut down the government and basically re-elected Bill Clinton," Scarborough said.

This time, far-right Republicans like Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz from Texas, and Utah's Mike Lee are threatening to shut the government down over the funding Obamacare.

"The way I see it is if we pass a budget that pays for everything except for Obamacare and the president says he'll veto it, it is he who wants to shutdown the government!" Rubio said in a Senate floor speech on Tuesday.

But as Chambliss reminded Morning Joe on Wednesday, history shows the opposite: in polls following the 1995 shutdown, Americans blamed Republicans more than Clinton by 2:1 margins.

On Tuesday, Lee suggested that his colleagues either "defund it or own it," referring to the universal healthcare bill. "If you fund it, you're for it," he said.

Chambliss said it's not so simple.

"Is it a fight worth having? Sure it's a fight worth having...[but] Obamacare, the parts that are kicking in, are mandatory portions. I'm not sure there's enough in a discretionary way that we can control," Chambliss said, echoing his colleague Sen. Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to remind his colleagues that they can't defund the bill without 67 votes in the Senate and two-thirds of the votes in the House—numbers they won't reach with the current Congress.