Tag: Government shutdown

Another Shutdown?


Congress is running out of time to agree on a spending plan that keeps the government open, as Republican leaders attempt to defuse the threat of another shutdown – this one over Planned Parenthood.

Dozens of conservatives in the House and Senate have already pledged not to vote for a spending bill that includes money for Planned Parenthood. But both House speaker John Boehner and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell have rejected such proposals, worried that moderate and independent voters may blame the Republican party for a government shutdown.

Ya think? Shutting down the government two years ago accomplished little but had some support from the public. Shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood will accomplish nothing and have almost no support (current polling shows 70-20 opposition).

This is entirely about Planned Parenthood. The parties are in agreement on the budget, which basically sustains the fiscal path that has cut the budget deficit by 70% over the last six years. Right now, the leadership are trying to schedule a separate vote on defunding Planned Parenthood. Even if that passes, however, the President would veto it. And even if he didn’t, Planned Parenthood would almost certainly sue over it. Most of their government money come via Medicaid, for medical services they provide to poor women (this does not include abortion, for which funding is forbidden). So this would amount to singling them out among many providers for activities which, so far, are not illegal. Moreover, stripping this funding would not stop a single abortion, since Planned Parenthood’s abortion business is a separate revenue stream.

I have no idea where the Republican Party is headed right now. The two men leading the polls are Donald Trump and Ben Carson, neither of whom has any experience and neither of whom has shown much policy knowledge. Meanwhile, the campaign of several promising governors — Christie, Perry, Walker — are imploding. And now we’re talking about a government shutdown to stop an admittedly unpleasant abortion provider from … also providing health services and birth control. And while the GOP is flailing around like this, the Democrats are getting ready to put forward Hillary Clinton or, God help us, Bernie Sanders, as a Presidential candidate.

Give the culture cons their vote on Planned Parenthood. But once that fails, just pass the damn budget. It’s one thing to shut down over spiraling deficits. I didn’t support the shutdown over Obamacare but at least that was partially defensible. But this … this is just silliness. And with an election coming up, it could prove to be very costly silliness.

Democrats Do What Democrats Do

The GOP’s shutdown strategy has predictably failed. Obamacare, despite its disastrous opening, is not going anywhere. The GOP is hemorrhaging at the polls and taking blame for the situation. The business community is bringing increasing pressure on the GOP to make a deal. So for the last few days, the GOP and Obama have been in talks about both the short- and long-term deals they want to make, starting with raising the debt limit.

If you’ve been watching American politics for a while, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop: when are the Democrats going to overplay their hand? Well, wait no more:

Senate Republicans are holding the line against Democratic demands for a framework to alleviate the across-the-board spending cuts established by sequestration as part of any deal to end the government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling.

In talks between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the main sticking point is now where to establish funding levels for the federal government and for how long. The Republican offer made on Friday — to set spending at sequestration levels of $988 billion for the next six months -– was rejected by Reid and others on Saturday on the grounds that it was too favorable to the GOP position and discouraged future negotiations.

By Sunday morning, little notable progress toward a resolution had been made. McConnell, according to sources, was adamant that the spending cuts of sequestration be maintained in any final arrangement.

This is stupid. The push for the last few weeks has been to pass a clean continuing resolution — that is funding the government at its current level while a long-term budget is worked out. That long-term deal could include a relaxation of the sequester … but only in exchange for statutory changes to entitlements that address the massive long-term deficits.

The debt ceiling, however, is only four days away making the wisdom or folly of the sequester irrelevant. For the Democrats to drag this out now is not only ridiculous, it’s politically stupid. The GOP has been getting beat up on the shutdown. Now the Dems are determined that they too must look like idiots.

I would be surprised but … this is utterly consistent with everything we’ve come to expect from the Democrats.

Update: If you want a laugh, trip over to some liberal blogs and witness everyone who has spent the last two weeks talking about petty and vindictive the GOP is suddenly claiming that this is reasonable because the Republicans should be hurt for the shutdown. Notice also how they are re-inventing facts, ignoring that the CR that we’ve been debating for the past three weeks funded the government at sequestration levels.

Honor Flight Back In

You may have heard about this awesomeness yesterday. World War II veterans, many flown in my Honor Flight, went to the World War II Memorial to pay respects to their fallen comrades. The Park Service had closed the memorial, citing safety and security concerns. Apparently, our veterans were good enough to storm the beaches of Normandy but can’t walk or be wheeled around outside without someone on call in case they fall.

Someone removed the barricades yesterday — it’s still not clear whom — and the veterans got into to the memorial. After earlier threatening to arrest anyone who went to the monument today, the Park Service has backed down.

A day after hundreds of tourist veterans took over the closed down World War II Memorial in the heart of the Nation’s Capital, the United States Park Police announced that planned Honor Flight visits to the monument are considered “First Amendment activities,” which are allowed regardless of the government’s operating status.

The news came at the same times as several hundred veterans from Missouri and Kansas roamed the memorial, in defiance of federal orders that the site was not open to the public. It ended some — but not all — of the circus atmosphere at the somber monument, which pays tribute to the 16 million troops who served in that war.

The memorial has been closed since midnight Tuesday morning because of the government shutdown resulting from Congress’ failure to pass a budget plan to start the new fiscal year.

Honor Flight is coming out very well in this, which doesn’t surprise me given the people who run it. They understand the position the Park Service is in, they are trying to avoid the media circus and you can tell they really don’t like the politicians stampeding down from Capital Hill to pose with veterans and claim their support. They just want these heroes to be able to visit the monument, period. And they appear to have carried the day.

We tend to be a bit glib about the government shutdown, joking about why “non-essential” people are being employed anyway. But the shutdown is having an impact, most of which will be felt in the long term. Veterans benefits will have problems in about two weeks, the CDC’s flu shot program (which saves tens of thousands of lives every year) is not going, NIH has to turn away kids from its cancer center, NASA is basically shut down, oil and gas drilling permits are not being issued, E-Verify on immigrant workers is shut down, etc., etc.

But this seems like one of those times when the Feds have gotten stupid. It’s nice to have people at national monuments that can answer questions, direct crowds and respond to a medical situation. It’s not required. And to take the attitude of “you will have supervised visits or no visits” for open-air monuments is ridiculous. All the open-air national monuments should be open right now. As Maggie said last night:

Resources are being used to close the parks. Why? A few police to make sure no one vandalizes anything (hardly a danger with 80-year old vets) is more than enough. This is one of those times when we’re seeing something government does that we can kind of live without.

Closed for Business

As of midnight tonight, we will very likely have a partial government shutdown due to the lack of a continuing resolution. The Republicans passed one that stripped funding from Obamacare (although it’s not that simple; stopping Obamacare requires statutory changes). The Senate bounced it. Now the Republicans have passed a CR that delays Obamacare a year and voids the medical device tax. This has also been rejected by the Senate for fairly obvious reasons. Among other things, most of Obamacare will start to be implemented tomorrow, regardless of what Congress does. And the Democrats will never accept delaying Obamacare a year. Their only hope is that the inevitable Obamacare clusterfuck becomes less of one by election time. They’re not going to accept a deal that puts maximum clusterfuckery right on top of the election.

So here we are.

Ted Cruz says this is the Republicans “listening to the people” but it really isn’t. The public is opposed to a shutdown. This is Cruz listening to the sliver of his supporters that do. Just to be clear: whether or not the government should be shut down to stop Obamacare shouldn’t be dependent on polls. But the idea that public is demanding a shutdown is simply wrong.

While a shutdown is not as bad as hitting the debt ceiling, I still think it’s a bad idea. The perpetual budget crisis is creating massive uncertainty for businesses — remember when uncertainty was a bad thing? — and hurting our economy. Maybe you could justify that if there were a hope of tossing Obamacare, but there isn’t: not with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House. And as the shutdown goes on, it is only going to strengthen the Democrats’ hand. Any problems with Obamacare will be ignored in the wake of the larger crisis or blamed on the shutdown. And the shutdown is very likely to blow up in the GOP’s face, politically. It’s very hard to turn this around to blame Obama when a) you’re the one who wants changes to existing law; b) your party is opposed to government anyway (or claims to be); and c) parts of your party are running around saying a government shutdown isn’t a bad thing.

(The shutdown is also a great unknown and is likely to have some very bad effects. I work with some active duty military and they’re staring down having to work without pay while the shutdown lasts. There’s some word about passing a bill to pay the soldiers, but no word yet on where it’s going.)

So ultimately, while this might make for good sound bites, I believe it is making for bad politics and making the permanent installation of Obamacare more, not less, likely.

The situation with the debt ceiling has, however, gotten even worse. The Republicans have issued a list of demands for suspending the debt ceiling for three months. There’s no word on if it was written with letters cut out of magazines:

Tax Reform Instructions

  • Similar to a bill we passed last fall, laying out broad from Ryan Budget principles for what tax reform should look like.
  • Gives fast track authority for tax reform legislation
  • Energy and regulatory reforms to promote economic growth

  • Includes pretty much every jobs bill we have passed this year and last Congress
  • All of these policies have important positive economic effects.
  • Keystone Pipeline
  • Coal Ash regulations
  • Offshore drilling
  • Energy production on federal lands
  • EPA Carbon regulations
  • REINS Act
  • Regulatory process reform
  • Consent decree reform
  • Blocking Net Neutrality
  • Mandatory Spending Reforms

  • Mostly from the sequester replacement bills we passed last year
  • Federal Employee retirement reform
  • Ending the Dodd Frank bailout fund
  • Transitioning CFPB funding to Appropriations
  • Child Tax Credit Reform to prevent fraud
  • Repealing the Social Services Block grant
  • Health Spending Reforms

  • Means testing Medicare
  • Repealing a Medicaid Provider tax gimmick
  • Tort reform
  • Altering Disproportion Share Hospitals
  • Repealing the Public Health trust Fund
  • They also, at a late stage, added a provision to remove the birth control mandate.

    Look, most of those are good ideas. The problem is that the Republicans ran on those ideas in 2012 and lost the election. Romney lost by four points and 126 electoral votes. And before you say, “he wasn’t conservative enough”, remember that he polled better nationally than the rest of the party did. The GOP lost eight seats in the House and two seats in the Senate, at least partially because of the primarying of moderates. To threaten the credit of the United States in an attempt to enact a rejected agenda would be absurd if it weren’t so repulsive. Again, the question I asked last week: do you want the Democrats doing this to President Rubio?

    It’s also, to me, fundamentally unserious. Even if Obama were amenable to the GOP’s wish list of issues, no agenda like that could be passed in three months, let alone a few days. It makes me more and more suspicious that the GOP’s actions are more about talking a big talk and raking in donations from the Tea Party than about seriously changing the course of our country. A serious group of conservatives would be trying to actually, you know, accomplish something, not breaching the debt ceiling so that they can prove how “tough” they are while accomplishing fuck all.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this sort of thing has happened before. Congress has previously attached debt ceiling hikes to legislation. Most of it was fiscally related; but several hikes were linked to other issues, such as in 1973, when Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale tried to attach campaign finance reform to a debt ceiling hike.

    But I would submit that when you’re following in the footsteps of Ted Kennedy and Walter Mondale … maybe you need to rethink your strategy.

    The Next Shutdown

    As I blogged last week, we are facing another government shutdown. This time, the issue is disaster relief. The GOP wants to pay for it by cutting green car subsidies (known to sensible people the world over as corporate welfare). The Democrats are opposed, partly because they like the corporate welfare but mostly because they don’t want to set a “precedent” for offsetting disaster relief.

    I really don’t follow that logic at all. Disaster relief counts toward the deficit just like everything else does. In fact, I would argue that a substantial part of our deficit has been created by a refusal to offset unexpected expenses like wars, recession relief and disaster relief. The entire reason for having PAYGO is to stop the bullshittery of Congress declaring a crisis and engaging in an orgy of unfunded spending. It’s not like the Democrats are in any kind of hurry to get the relief money out. If they were, they would’t be threatening a shutdown.

    Offsetting disaster relief serves another purpose: forcing Congress to figure out how much relief is actually needed. We have gotten far too used to legislators just naming a figure and rushing the funds out the door, sometimes throwing in some pork for good measure. Does anyone expect spending discipline to be followed in a “We must pass it now! NOW NOW NOW!” situation? Force people to prioritize and we’ll get the relief we need … and only the relief we need.

    It’s not like Congress is fumbling desperately for spending to cut. Here is a story from the Chicago Tribune about the explosion in farm income over the last few years:

    They’re enjoying the fattest times in memory. The money pouring into Corn Belt bank accounts isn’t just setting a record. The latest government figures show farm income blowing past the previous high of $84.7 billion in 2004 to top $100 billion this year. Land values have soared and debt is being paid down aggressively.

    There’s no end in sight to the boom times. A small crop this year and continued strong demand set the stage for another bonanza next year, and probably the year after that.

    Depending on your accounting, we’re talking about $25 billion a year, at least, ten times the amount in dispute.

    Then there’s this:

    A shutdown wouldn’t be a good thing for the economy, but it wouldn’t be a fiasco on the scale of defaulting on the national debt. Similarly, a shutdown wouldn’t make any politicians in Washington look particularly good, but at this point, there might be more upside for the two parties in confrontation than there is in continued unsatisfying compromises.

    That’s a particularly popular interpretation among Democrats, who worry that Republicans have become too accustomed to legislating through fiscal brinksmanship, and the only way to reset the budget process and end these constant threats of shutdowns and defaults is to let a shutdown actually happen and show Republicans what that means for them, both economically and politically. This shutdown, because it’s over relatively little money, and because Democrats feel comfortable saying “we shouldn’t be cutting jobs spending to pay for disaster aid” over and over again, offers a way to carry that strategy out in a relatively controlled fashion.

    Remember when the Democrats were the party of grown-ups? When the GOP threatened shut-downs to cut spending, it was called reckless partisanship. Now it’s just “resetting the budget process”.