Well, that was fun, wasn't it? That's 17 days that neither we nor the economy will get back. Thanks, GOP!
And that's ultimately how this will be viewed, as a GOP-induced shutdown. It was the tea party caucus in the House which forced the shutdown and it was only when faced with shaking the markets by risking debt default that sensible heads within the party broke the Hastert rule and let a Senate bill onto the floor for consideration.
In the middle of all of the wrangling — after the Senate had put together a clean funding resolution which funds the government through January 15 and raises the debt limit through Feb. 7 — Standard & Poor's issued a report in the late afternoon which quantified the impact of furloughing hundreds of thousands of workers and grinding the government to a halt. Sixteen days of shutdown evaporated $24 billion and 0.6 points of fourth-quarter GDP. Poof. It's gone. So we can make this about Obamacare or spending or whatever we want to make it about, but the bottom line is that the GOP shut down the federal government for a little more than two weeks with almost nothing to show for it except lost wages and damage to a still-wobbly U.S. economy. That seems like bad politics and bad policy.
Let's take a look at the local fallout ...
Irony. In the end, the bill which passed both houses was sponsored by … Diane Black. Yup, that's right, her "No Subsidies Without Verification Act" was the vehicle the Senate amended to open the government back up. And to ride this train to its logical destination, Black ended up voting against her own bill in the end.
Jim Cooper. Cooper and the conservatives in the Democratic party had been working with moderates among House Republicans to craft some sort of alternative to the Tea Party's bills. And while Speaker John Boehner's insistence on adhering to the so-called Hastert Rule (which says that you don't bring bills to the floor unless you have a majority of your caucus behind it) meant that they wouldn't get introduced, their work let people know that when it came time to stop acting like children and cut a deal, there would be support in the middle to re-open the government.
Lamar Alexander. There was a very telling moment in the post-Senate-vote press conference where Majority Leader Harry Reid talked about the distance between himself and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. One of the people responsible for getting the two Senate leaders talking? Alexander. Reid personally thanked the Senior Senator for reaching across the aisle to jump start negotiations after talks between Reid and Boehner broke down. For some on the right, this will be viewed as treason (see below). For those of us who think the shutdown was stupid — and to be clear, that's most of America — this will be viewed as acting like an adult when the Ted Cruzes of the world are acting like children.
Governors. There are people who throw bombs and there are people who run things. The split in the Republican party can be seen as a right vs. center divide, but it can also be seen as ideologues vs. people who make things work. Gov. Bill Haslam was on the record last week as saying the shutdown was a bad idea. Almost none of the 30 GOP governors came out in support of the House GOP's position. Why? Because they knew that on a practical level it was bad governance and on a political level it would hurt the party. Much has been written about how the re-drawing of congressional districts in 2010 has insulated tea party-aligned members of the House from political reality, but the evidence is clear — Republicans who actually have to govern don't view hostage-taking as a viable strategy.
Joe Carr. After bending the truth a little on Ralph Bristol's show yesterday about how much money he has raised in a primary campaign to unseat Lamar Alexander, Carr doubled down on the shutdown last night. Within minutes of the Senate vote, Carr's campaign released this statement:
"What happened in Washington over these past few weeks has been a total debacle thanks in large part to Senator Alexander. President Obama won’t work with Conservatives, because he knows, if he waits long enough, Senator Alexander will sell out Conservatives and give him everything he wants. And that’s exactly what Senator Alexander did today.
“Today, Senator Alexander sold-out Tennesseans. He agreed to a deal that gave into the demands of President Obama and Sen. Harry Reid and did not even begin to tackle our spending problem or in any meaningful way rescue Americans from the harmful effects of ObamaCare. That’s not conservative and that's not acceptable,” said Representative Joe Carr.
“Let me be clear I would have joined Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and the rest of the real conservatives in Washington and voted against this deal. Today’s vote by Senator Alexander highlights a major difference in our core philosophies and will be a top issue in this campaign moving forward,” Said Representative Carr.
This is not the message of someone who understands the forces at play. The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — is already the law of the land and with a Senate controlled by Democrats and a President who would veto any attempt to repeal it, shutting down the government was simply not an effective strategy. To be clear, a vote to keep the government closed was a vote to continue to damage the economy at this point and Joe Carr would have continued to shut down the government. Republicans now have a stark choice in the upcoming primary between a candidate that understands political reality and another that doesn't.
The House GOP delegation. Both senators — Alexander and Corker — voted for the Senate plan. All seven Republicans in the House voted against it. Again, to be clear, a vote against the bill was a vote to default on our debt. Period. Both Alexander and Corker knew this and said as much after their votes. The House delegation, however, tried to make this about "giving the President a blank check," to use Diane Black's words. That is actually 100 percent wrong. The budget resolution locked in spending at sequester levels, in effect institutionalizing earlier budget cuts. Further, the debt limit has absolutely nothing to do with spending levels, and failure to raise the limit would have negative, even radical, consequences for U.S. markets and the dollar. To bring debt default into play is to label yourself as a fundamentally unserious legislator.
Marsha Blackburn. An influential member of the House and a popular GOP face on television, Blackburn could have done one thing which would have avoided yesterday's capitulation: Claimed victory over spending. The position that Democrats have been forced back to — sequester levels of spending — is more than $200 billion less than the original Obama budget.
But this became about Obamacare, something that Blackburn — who has served in the House long enough to read tea leaves better than the tea partiers leading the charge against it — should have known was never going to be repealed. Instead, Blackburn should have said "Look, we have just forced Democrats to reign in their spending, and after we pass this resolution, we're going to force them to reign it in more in the budget process." But instead, she rode this wave all the way to the debt default deadline and instead came out looking like a loser when, in fact, she and Republicans have a real victory. Now, instead of taking that momentum into a discussion about entitlement reform and tax relief, Blackburn has joined the caucus that seems more interested in fighting un-winnable battles than making real reductions in the size of government.
If the only victory you can win is total victory, then it's never going to happen. When you label opening the government as a capitulation, prepare yourself for a career of defeat.