Shut down the shutdowns?

John Boehner’s resignation makes a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood in the near future much less likely, as Boehner is no longer worried about losing his speakership in a conservative revolt. That said, the underlying dynamics that made a shutdown look increasingly likely over the course of the last few weeks haven’t changed. The really conservative wing of the party is still coming under constant fire from the really really conservative wing of the party for not being conservative enough, with “conservative” defined as that which rejects the premise of the Obama presidency.

That means no debt ceiling increase and no funding the government until Obama lets them make health insurance reform and Planned Parenthood disappear.

So at some point down the road, we’re going to have another showdown. That is, unless Alan Grayson has anything to say about it.

Grayson has introduced a bill, the Shut Down the Shutdowns Act, that would continue to fund federal agencies at existing levels until a new budget is passed. This would make it impossible to hold the government’s funding hostage in order to extract political concessions, avoiding situations like the one that was developing over Planned Parenthood. For instance, we wouldn’t have to worry about medical research being held up over one sixtieth of one percent of the federal budget (the share Planned Parenthood’s reimbursements constitute).

Cong. Alan Grayson (photo by LDL766)

Alan Grayson (photo by LDL766)

And while I’m sympathetic to the argument that Congress is designed to avoid difficult decisions, and that the application of pressure — such as deadlines for funding federal agencies — is often the only way to bring them to the negotiating table, the way such deadlines have been used as leverage during the Obama presidency have been unprecedented and irresponsible. There are good reasons to leverage a deadline into a compromise; a lie about a doctored sting video isn’t one of them.

What’s more, the political climate that fostered compromise legislation is gone, and there’s no reason to believe we’ll be getting it back anytime soon. As the partisan realignment has concluded, with the South becoming solidly Republican and the parties becoming more ideologically coherent, both (although to a far greater extent Republicans) are behaving as parties do in a parliamentary system, voting as a bloc. There simply aren’t that many Blue Dog Democrats or New England Republicans left to forge compromises, leaving the parties more polarized than at any time since the Civil War.

This being the case, maybe it’s time we modified our expectation of Congress and got them out of the government’s way.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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