Sen. Ted Cruz and the Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House always want to fight, even when defeat is certain, as it is now when Senate Democrats can kill any legislation with a filibuster and President Obama can veto anything that might survive a filibuster.
The unwinnable-fights attitude can cause real damage, such as the current GOP leadership crisis and the current threat to the nation’s finances. Hopefully, the leadership chaos has passed with everyone rallying around Paul Ryan. Cruz and company’s threats to block an increase in the federal debt ceiling led the U.S. Treasury to cancel its next debt auction, which couldn’t settle before we hit the current ceiling on November 3. With luck, Tuesday’s tentative budget deal will remove this threat.
Fighting with the prospect of winning is ideal. Fighting to make a new point is fine. But repeatedly fighting the same unwinnable shutdown battles?
Cruz and the caucus want a shutdown to “force” President Obama and Congressional Democrats to repeal Obamacare and/or to “defund” the Iran nuclear deal and/or to defund Planned Parenthood. The first is the signature domestic policy achievement of Obama and his party, the second their signature foreign policy achievement, and Planned Parenthood programs are of the highest priority to Democrats. In 2013, Cruz demanded the first, in September he wanted both the second and third. Who knows what he wants now. None of this has or will succeed.
Cruz and his allies know this, but they think that it is a symbolic victory if they “force” the Democrats to go “on the record” with a filibuster or Obama with a veto. Well, Obama and Democrats are on the record already. There’s no difference between voting to enact those policies and voting against their repeal. A double negative equals a positive.
It’s not a new message either. Everyone knows Republicans want to repeal Obamacare and nix the Iran deal.
Cruz has rolled out some history in an attempt to validate his shutdown fixation. In a September 23 Politico column, he wrote “when Reagan was president, there were eight partial shutdowns, including six before his historic 1984 reelection. The world didn’t end.”
It didn’t end, because the “shutdowns” lasted only one to four days, mostly over weekends. The first involved a mere $2 billion in spending cuts. In the second, Congress missed the budget deadline. That’s not a “shutdown.” The third was over a jobs program and the MX missile; Reagan won on the former, lost on the later. And so on. Reagan was negotiating for the best in a bipartisan compromise, not trying to force total capitulation by his partisan opponents.
Cruz wrote, “Of the past 55 times the debt ceiling has been adjusted, Congress has attached meaningful conditions 28 times.”
A Congressional Research Service report on the 55 debt limit increases described Cruz’s 28 instances as being “part of legislation dealing with other matters,” not as subject to “meaningful conditions.”
One “other matter” was an accounting change, and three “others” allowed greater amounts of long-term federal bonds. These were technical, not “meaningful.”
In only one of the 28 instances was the ceiling directly involved in a shutdown. During the 1990 budget negotiations, there were six short-term increases/extensions of the ceiling. President George H. W. Bush vetoed one, demanding a deficit reduction plan of the Democrat-controlled Congress. After two days, Bush got his plan.
While Cruz and allies think “the grass roots” are rising up and demanding government shutdowns, a Quinnipiac poll in September found that only 36% of Republicans would have supported a shutdown to defund Planned Parenthood.
If Cruz and his allies were just posturing on the campaign trail, that would be one thing. They’d rise or fall as individual candidates.
But their shutdown delusion is damaging the GOP and, ironically, any real possibility of achieving the intended goals. A real rollback of Obama’s policies requires a Republican in the White House and comfortable majorities in both houses of Congress.
It requires a sweeping electoral victory that we Republicans can only achieve as a unified party that impresses voters with our judgment, competence and courage. Not as a party divided over this ridiculous shutdown obsession.
As appeared in USA Today on Oct. 28, 2015.
Red Jahncke is a nationally recognized columnist, who writes about politics and policy. His columns appear in numerous national publications, such as The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, USA Today, The Hill, Issues & Insights and National Review as well as many Connecticut newspapers.