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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11 Responses to “Shut down the shutdowns?”

  1. Hue-Man says:

    HuffPo headline from 2013: “Why a Government Shutdown Would Never Happen in Canada”

    In a worst case scenario, there’s a fail-safe: “. ..Canada fortunately has a back-up decision-maker in the Governor General, who can approve a Special Warrant that allows money to flow to the government without Parliament’s approval.”

    Conservatives love to talk about how government should be more like ordinary families – then they act like 3-year-olds!

  2. nicho says:

    Holding their breath until they turn blue is all the Republicans have left. They have no ideas and no clue. The whole party has become like a five-year-old with an automatic pistol.

  3. Indigo says:

    They don’t have the integrity to resign.

  4. Naja pallida says:

    Even with as ugly as the process of legislation is, shutting down the federal government was never ever intended to be used as a “negotiation” tactic. Republicans invented it, because they are petulant children who are incapable of participating in the democratic process in good faith. They would rather punish the whole country, than actually do their job. And yes, sometimes that job entails eating shit, and smiling about it. If they don’t like it, they should resign in protest and let someone who actually wants to take it seriously run for office.

  5. Demosthenes says:

    Mr. Grayson’s bill is an artful way of determining which representatives are responsible versus those who are insane.

  6. Skye Winspur says:

    Yes, we’re seeing something like pure anarchism emerge on the far right. I’m trying to imagine the Republican party of 50 years ago tolerating Ted Cruz’s hour-long free-expressive discourse against order and compromise, and failing.

  7. Indigo says:

    I’m uneasy with taking the shut-down option off the table but then again . . . the liberal democracy built on civility, courtesy, and respect for others has pretty well dissolved away in the corrosive acid of the Negativity Party, formerly the Republicans. It’s probably just as well to acknowledge the fact that they fully intend to shut down everything they can reach, so taking the shut-down option off the table is best likened to taking the scissors away from children who are running and screaming around the table instead of working on their kindergarten cut-and-paste projects. That does not indict the system, it acknowledges that the practices of the immature have shifted into a dangerously anti-social pattern.

  8. BeccaM says:

    I applaud Grayson’s effort, but the problem isn’t the fact the Republicans CAN shut down the entire federal government over petty issues — it’s that they WILL do so.

    Before Newt Gingrich, it was unthinkable. Now they’ll do it at the drop of a hat, and for an issue that is contrary to what a majority of the country wants, over a deliberately doctored (and lying) sting video.

    I think the core of this comes from a notion the GOP internalized from Reagan: That government itself is bad. Despite all the many things they want to DO with that government — launching wars, giving money to corporations, building and filling prisons, legislate their own nightmare vision of ‘morality’ into being — there are increasing numbers of Republicans, including their major presidential candidates, who have adopted the perverse view that they’re doing the country a favor when they shut it down. And for whatever reason, the Tea Bagger contingent sees negotiation and compromise as dirty words.

    Time and time again now, they claim their people can and should disobey laws. The GOPers themselves seem to have complete disdain for voting rights and fair elections. Their own presidential candidates almost unanimously have declared intent to rule autocratically, unbound even by the Constitution.

    I’d say maybe it’s time the American people realized there is one party that seems determined to unmake the ‘Great Experiment’ of a constitutional democratic republic by any means they deem necessary — and it’s not the Democratic party.

  9. Ol' Hippy says:

    The thought that the extreme right might wield more power in the House is frightening, so I hope this bill passes. So I guess holding the government hostage to implement their agenda is going to be on these extremist’s list of tools to get their way. It just goes to show how this country is slipping more and more to the right. Even the democrats seem to be slipping to the right of center. Where will this madness end? I just hope that some sense ensues and the government workers don’t have to be furloughed agai.

  10. Butch1 says:

    Exactly so. These tea party babies sooner or later have got to learn the art of compromise negotiations with the others across the aisle and stop thinking they are the only ones that matter in both the House and the Senate. This “Shut-Down” tool of theirs has cost us more money in the past and then to have them arrogantly blame it on the other side is over the line.

    When will the people and especially their constituents realize what they are doing is actually ruining this country?

  11. The_Fixer says:

    As a volunteer for a government agency, I am acquainted with professionals who work in this agency of the Federal government. They make decent money, but are certainly far from the 1%. Just like everybody else, they have houses, cars, kids in college and other obligations that take money to meet.

    Every time they do a shutdown, the local office goes into a “stay-alive” mode, providing only the most basic of services. What this agency does directly affects public safety, and operating with a skeleton crew can very definitely have dent their ability to protect the public.

    It’s a real pain for the people who work in the local offices when their paychecks don’t come. Some may be able to weather it OK, but for others, it represents a real hardship. Then there’s the additional frustration at work – they can’t spend any of the agency’s money in order to do their job. It even affects our volunteers’ ability to provide assistance – no volunteers during a shutdown because there’s not enough staff to deal with our help. Imagine that, the government has to turn down free help when they need it most.

    This shutdown business has to stop. Grayson’s got the right idea. Which will be the reason it may be doomed to failure. Well, that and the fact that it’s another obstructionist tool gone from the Republicans tool chest.

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