The Brewing Showdown over a Government Shutdown

The Treasury Department says that some time in the first or second quarter of next year, the government will need to shut down unless Congress raises the debt ceiling so that additional borrowing can occur to keep things running. This could be a battle royale, creating showdowns within the Republican Party between the Tea Party activists and establishment members, as well as between the Republican Party and President Obama.

The Tea Party activists have no compunction about shutting down government. According to ThinkProgress, a growing number of members of the soon-to-be-112th Congress have begun openly discussing the need to shut the government down:

Those Republicans who have expressly called for a shutdown include Rep.-elect Alan Nunnelee (R-MS), Rep.-elect Tim Walberg (R-MI), Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), and Sen.-elect Mike Lee (R-UT). Even Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA), the second-highest ranking House Republican, is open to a government shutdown.

The newest member of the “Shutdown Caucus” is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), who … told us that “we owe” it to “our children and our grandchildren” to shut down the government…

The establishment Republicans, including the next Speaker of the House, Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), will remember the 1995 showdown between former Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton over spending issues. The Treasury Department announced the need to raise the debt ceiling at the time, but Gingrich would not do so unless Clinton agreed to major spending cuts. Gingrich felt he had Clinton over a barrel since the annual spending bills had not been completed, and it was already November. Clinton would not capitulate to the cuts, so Gingrich shut the government down between Nov. 14 and Nov. 19, 1995, until a continuing resolution was passed. Clinton still would not budge, so Gingrich shut government down again from Dec. 16 to Jan. 5, 1996, creating the longest shutdown in history – 21 days. Fallout from the shutdown was dramatic: public opinion shifted precipitously against Gingrich and toward Clinton.

At that time, Boehner supported Gingrich’s move. But just before this year’s November election, Boehner told CNN that the goal “is not to shut down government.”

We'll all need to keep an eye on the internal fights within the Republican Party as it decides whether to push the government into a shutdown mode. Obviously, cutting off money for Social Security, Medicare, and hundreds of programs such as Head Start, along with furloughing federal workers during tough economic times, would be devastating. I’m also nervous about the House Republicans taking us to the brink of shutdown, only to cut a deal to attach some of the Pledge to America ideas as a trade-off for agreeing to pass a debt ceiling increase. This, too, would be extremely troubling and would not bode well for the nation.

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