Blog No. 8 Another Government Shutdown? The Oozlums Are Circling.

For several months, we have been spared the drama of a manufactured fiscal crisis. That period of relative calm has allowed the stock market to reach new highs and the broader economy to show signs of improvement. So favorable an environment, however, may soon be coming to an end: there are two fiscal deadlines this fall that could precipitate a crisis brought on by an imminent or actual government shutdown. Those deadlines arise from the need for a continuing resolution to continue funding the government after September 30, and the need to raise the debt ceiling. If either deadline should in fact precipitate a crisis, the precise consequences are impossible to predict, but it is certain they will not be pleasant—for the country or for Republicans.

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Drawing by PixelMecha

An earlier blog post described certain House Republicans as members of the ROC — the Republican Oozlum Caucus. The Oozlum, it was noted, is a mythical bird that flies in ever decreasing concentric circles until it flies up into itself, disappearing altogether. (See Special Bulletin: “I’d Rather Be a RINO than a ROC.”) It now appears that the Caucus has spread to the Senate and its flight plan is unchanged. The evidence of that woeful development lies in the fact that a dozen Senators have sent a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid that threatens a government shutdown if funding for Obamacare is included in a continuing resolution. (Over sixty Republicans in the House have sent a similar letter to Speaker John Boehner.)

Threatening a shutdown in an attempt to “defund” Obamacare can be described most charitably as quixotic. As a technical matter, Senator Coburn has pointed out that excluding Obamacare from the continuing resolution would not void the law as most of its funding is mandatory and flows through other channels. Moreover, there is no chance that President Obama would sign any bill that defunds Obamacare in any respect. Nor would the public be likely to blame the President if a shutdown ensued at that point, or alternatively, if a refusal to raise the debt ceiling impaired the country’s credit. However unpopular Obamacare may be, shutting down the government or seriously disrupting the financial markets would be far more objectionable to the public. In short, the threat of the ROC is, as conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has pointed out, an empty one. 

The leader of the shutdown threat in the Senate is Senator Mike Lee of Utah who has been joined most prominently by Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, whose eyes on 2016 have already taken them on jaunts to Iowa. Disappointingly, they have also been joined by Senator Marco Rubio, another potential hopeful for 2016. Senator Rubio, having recently been tarred (or, in our view, honored) as a RINO for his work on immigration reform, is now apparently scrambling to restore his credentials as a Tea Party favorite. The other Senators who signed the letter included James Risch of Idaho, James Inhofe of Oklahoma, David Vitter of Louisiana, John Thune of South Dakota, Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Jeff Chiesa of New Jersey. 

Encouragingly, however, there have been signs of a spirited pushback by cooler heads among Republicans in both the Senate and the House. As reported by Reuters:

” ‘Oh, I think it’s a silly effort,’ Republican Senator Bob Corker told MSNBC on Tuesday. ‘What people are really saying who are behind that effort is we don’t have the courage to roll up our sleeves and deal with real deficit and spending decisions.’ 

Corker joined moderate Republican Senators John McCain, Richard Burr, Lindsey Graham and Tom Coburn in sharply criticizing the defunding bid in recent days.

Seven-term Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said he feared Republicans would look “feckless” in pushing a doomed legislative strategy that some Democrats simply describe as “hostage-taking.”

Graham, another senior Republican voice, said the strategy by the Tea Party – a loose political movement that seeks lower taxes and a smaller federal government – was ‘a bridge too far.’ “

With respect to a hostage strategy in connection with the debt ceiling, Senator McCain was characteristically outspoken:

Some of my Republican colleagues are already saying we won’t raise the debt limit unless there’s repeal of Obamacare. I’d love to repeal Obamacare, but I promise you that’s not going to happen on the debt limit. So some would like to set up another one of these shutdown-the-government threats. And most Americans are really tired of those kinds of shenanigans here in Washington.” 

Senator Roy Blunt echoed McCain’s view in slightly less colorful terms, “I think holding the debt limit hostage to any specific thing is probably not the best negotiating place.” 

Similarly, disapproval of the hostage strategy has been expressed by several senior Republicans in the House, including Appropriations Committee Chair Harold Rogers. And while John Boehner has not publicly taken a position, it has been reported that the leadership is “considering other options that they think are more effective.” 

Predictably no doubt, resistance to the hostage strategy in the Senate and House has provoked a response from the Tea Party. According to the Wall Street Journal

Two national tea-party organizations, Tea Party Patriots and ForAmerica, sent a letter this week to Senate Republicans threatening to make the defunding vote a litmus test for future support. “We are unable to support any elected official who votes in favor of continued funding,” the groups wrote.

Most RINOs will probably feel that, in general, litmus tests for political votes or positions are a bad idea, too often stigmatizing people or groups who simply have a different opinion. In this case, however, an exception may be justified, though not in quite the way intended by the tea-party groups. It may well be worthwhile to have a litmus test to single out the Oozlums bent on a reckless and destructive course, damaging to the economy and to  the Republican Party along with it. They deserve, at the very least, to be pursued by a herd of angry RINOs.

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3 thoughts on “Blog No. 8 Another Government Shutdown? The Oozlums Are Circling.

  • As a concerned Democrat, I believe there is a critical need for a two party system in our nation to preclude runaway policies that are often bred by the extreme wing of either political party. The two parties in the past have ensured a spirit of compromise by opposing members to get things done and to tend to the nation’s business. In the process, it provided cover for the more reasonable representatives from their extreme wings in “I had to do it”. Alas, this doesn’t seem to work in the highly polarized atmosphere that has overtaken virtually all levels of political dialog in the country. It is a stretch to the verb “dialog” when it is two strident monologues. It also appears to me that the undercurrent of the Republican resistance to Obamacare, is not that it wont work, but that it will work and that will become obvious to the people. Recent articles in the New York Times have identified individuals’ savings for medical insurance costs in some states that have begun to implement the Affordable Care Act. Ouch! The fact that between 30 – 45 million Americans do not have access to medical insurance (you can take your pick as to the source of the 15 million disparity) seems to have been lost on opponents to the program. It is an Insurance program that is in question, not medical practice as the “No Socialized Medicine in MY Country” chanters keep saying. Of course, the uninsured have access to medical treatment, often when it is at a critical stage, and therefore both life threatening and extremely more expensive to treat. Uninsured people go to hospital emergency rooms, where under federal law, they must be treated. Since the hospitals cannot absorb these attendant costs, they negotiate higher payouts from the insurance carriers, who of course, pass on their costs to us, the premium payers. Ta- da! There is no free lunch and there is no free medical care. Rationalizing the costs of medical care in the country may help lower our total national expenditures, but by golly, to tag it with the name of a Democratic president is an anathema to the ROCs regardless of the benefits to the society as a whole. The mantra of “no budget and no increase in the debt ceiling unless no Obamacare” is the shibboleth of the political Kamikazis.

    • Obamacare, or more broadly healthcare, involves a complex set of issues that may be addressed in a future blog. For the moment, suffice it to say that I do not at all share Mr.Bloom’s enthusiasm for Obamacare and I disagree with his diagnosis of why Republicans oppose it. Nevertheless, for the reasons expressed in the blog (and in a column by Charles Krauthammer which will appear shortly in an Update), I do think the threat of a government shutdown is a very bad idea.

  • Far-sighted Republicans, as all far-sighted Americans, are able to defer action on one immediate battle in order to be in a better position to win the war that really counts, serving the best interests of the nation as a whole. No matter how intense one’s opposition to Obamacare, it bears its own self-contained weaknesses and limitations, which will be dealt with in their own time. In the meantime, the nation’s best interests demand that the full range of needs and concerns be dealt with, rather than functioning on a ROC-imposed starvation budget. Good to see more establishment Republicans joining RINOs in being far-sighted rather than myopic.

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