Readers on the Shutdown

Who is helped by permanent-emergency governance, and why.
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In response to previous items on the press's false-equivalence mindset, and the all-or-nothing politics of the House GOP's demands, herewith a range of responses from readers.

The surprising ripple effects of a government shutdown. Periodic threatened-and-real government shutdowns have become so frequent that it's easy to forget the damage they do. A reader with this little illustration:

As a planning commissioner, I'm attending the California APA [American Planning Association] conference starting next Sunday (Oct. 6) in Visalia.  Yesterday, as I was on the websites for Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks that I am hoping to visit before the conference, it dawned on me that they would be closed in a Federal shutdown.  Since I would stay at least one, possibly two nights at a hotel in the area, those plans are currently on hold.  Even if there is no shutdown or only one for a day or two, it may be too late to change my plans. 

So this Republican initiated game of chicken is already having an impact on one hotel's revenue stream.  I imagine there are many similar stories out there as we get down to the wire whether or not it does end in a shutdown.

It's one traveler, changing plans for a night or two on the road, but from the aggregation of millions of such tiny decisions do businesses and whole economies expand or contact.

Similarly on real-world effects, from a reader in the Colorado flood zone:

Just to confirm that around here in flooded Colorado FEMA does seem to be slowing down because of shutdown concerns and the National Guard (which is doing road reconstruction on one of the major roads to Estes Park from the plains among other things) will be called off.

Just one little example of the impact of a shutdown: Let's say a person from Estes Park needs to go to Loveland to see a doctor or conduct business there because it's the closest larger town to Estes. It now requires a roundtrip of about 250 miles to do that instead of a 70 mile roundtrip. Each day we get closer to winter when reconstruction of the road is more and more difficult. I haven't heard a single complaint about the impact of a shutdown from Rep. Gardner (R) whose district includes Estes Park and much of the most heavily damaged areas on the plains.  Shame on him and on all the other Republican representatives in Colorado...

And all of this brinksmanship is in service of repealing a bill that will extend health care to almost all Americans... This is of course only one of thousands of similar stories from one just one impacted area.

Boehner could solve this. A reader writes:

Here is a sentence (from yesterday's NYT) that points up something that needs to be emphasized more, I believe:

"Speaker John A. Boehner of Ohio faced a critical decision this weekend: Accept a bill passed by the Senate on Friday to keep the government financed and the health care law intact and risk a conservative revolt that could threaten his speakership, or make one more effort to undermine the president’s signature domestic initiative and hope that a shutdown would not do serious political harm to his party."

That sentence could be recast as "For the Speaker of the House, the choice comes down to whether to protect his job by screwing 800,000 government employees out of their paychecks now, or by engineering an worldwide economic conflagration in two weeks." If John Boehner thinks by staying in his job he's restraining the lunatics in his party from wrecking our political system completely, you have to question his sense of perspective. If he is not somehow completely cynical, he should resign the leadership and let the House GOP members turn their destructive potential on one another instead of letting them launch their attacks from behind his skirts.

Or McConnell. Another reader:

No one is mentioning that both the House and the Senate have passed budgets - and that they are not going to reconciliation because Senate Republicans won't let them. This sets up the theater of the absurd situation where Republicans in Congress are demanding life or death negotiations over a 6-week CR while refusing to negotiate over an entire year's budget.

Or them both. A reader says talk of the internal GOP split is overdone:

I've been reading for awhile now of an internecine battle within the Republican party, with a group of 20 or so hard-line Tea Party affiliated Republican congressmen holding the others hostage and forcing what increasingly looks to be the shutdown of our government (with a devastating default possibly looming in a couple of weeks).  What BS (sorry, there's no other way to say it).

I mean, where's the battle?  The latest bill to come out of the House had unanimous support from the Republican Party!  It seems that there has been complete capitulation of the rest of the Republican congressmen to the hard-liners, and they are as much (if not more) responsible for the craziness that is occurring right now.... 

If they REALLY were fighting for the soul of their party, they would be backing up their words with deeds to make sure such nonsense never passes a "majority of the majority" vote.  They would let Boehner know that the hard-liners couldn't even win in their own party.  And, if they were really serious, they would even seriously consider pulling their support for Boehner as speaker and (heaven forbid!) working with the Democrats to install someone that would actually, you know, try to govern.

(And the Senate Republicans aren't much better.  If they really wanted to shame their colleagues in the House, they'd vote with the Democrats for a unanimous clean bill to continue funding of the government.  But they shrug their shoulders, say "Tsk, tsk, it's not us", and watch while things go from bad to worse).

What a sad, sad group of cowards.

New meanings of "compromise." From another reader: 

The House Republicans bring to mind a guy who walks into a car dealership and offers $10,000 for a $30,000 car -- then accuses the dealer of acting in bad faith for refusing to negotiate. 

Is this really unprecedented? Another:

You wrote today: "In short, we have a faction making historically unprecedented demands -- give us everything, or we stop the government and potentially renege on the national debt."

There is one precedent. In the months and years leading up to the Civil War, the Southern "Fire Breathers" were engaging in similar rhetoric, threatening to shut down the Union unless slavery was not just protected in the slave states, but also actually enforced in the free states. We all know what eventually happened. It seems inconceivable that something even remotely like that would ever happen again. Let's hope that's the case.

Right: the 1840s-onward precedent is one I've invoked. From another reader:

The pre-Civil War comparison has come to mind.  I can't see how this current mess will be resolved until the election after the 2020 census and the Democrats regain control of some state legislatures. 

And, drawing out this comparison, Bernard Finel says that the point of shutdown threats is to bring about a shutdown

Your Calhoun comparison is precisely correct. And indeed, the logical end point of all of this is a de-facto dissolution of the Union...

My point [in this 2012 item] there was that the GOP is, I think, moving increasingly toward the notion of a government shutdown as an end in itself rather than a matter of leverage. The Tea Party caucus already largely believes that a government shutdown would have no negative consequences (other than perhaps politically). I think part of what is going on is that the GOP is slowly, but surely, psyching itself up to the next step, a shutdown as a matter of preference rather than negotiations.

Does that seem crazy? Sure, but so does defaulting on the national debt. We are not dealing with ordinary politicians here. We're dealing with revolutionaries in the classic, Kissingerian, terminology. The old rules don't apply to them.

Anyway, the big issue is, "what is the proper response if the GOP refuses to pass appropriations as a matter of policy preference?" In other words, what is the proper response should the GOP effectively choose to dissolve the Union -- which is what an extended government shutdown represents -- by simply preventing a single chamber of Congress from appropriating funds?

I like the Bismarck solution personally [a unilateral declaration by the executive that "since the Constitution did not provide for cases in which legislators failed to approve a budget, he could merely apply the previous year’s budget." JF note: I think a response like this is Obama's only option if the debt ceiling doesn't go up, but that's a different topic for later on. Henry Aaron explains the situation well today in the NYT.]

What about the Dems in the McGovern era? A reader said today's GOP split reminded him of the Democratic party split from the late 1960s through the 1980s. I wrote back to say: Yes, but the threats to bring all other public business to a halt were different. The reader replied:

Maybe. Certainly the scale is different. But I'll never forget the day I watched Ron Dellums come out of a budget negotiation crowing and strutting over how he had beaten the President (Carter). That was the moment I fully realized that the Democratic party no longer existed as a party, in that it no longer had a collective sense of basic direction. It was simply a collection of interest groups most of which cared little about what happened to the party or the government so long as their narrow interests were attended to.

What is different this time is the strong concentration of True Believers in the Republican party, and the history Obama has established in prior situations of being willing to cave on fundamental principles in pursuit of a grand bargain. The former is behind the GOP's apparent belief that any price is worth paying to cancel the ACA, including a worldwide depression, and the latter is behind their belief that it will in the end work.

Several more after the jump. 

Trading one dream for another:

There is one aspect to the current battle that has been overlooked.

One of the stated goals of the TP wing of the GOP has been to fulfill Grover Norquist's dream of drowning the government in a bathtub. We are at a point in time where the GOP has a shot at not necessarily drowning the government, but at least giving it a really thorough dunking that'll invoke a lot of fear and make the American people aware of their goals.    It will also raise sympathy for their cause among the true believers.

The GOP is willing to forego this long held dream in exchange for Obama giving up on the Democratic dream of universal health care.   To the GOP mind, this may seem like a fair trade.  The Democrats don't get their dream of universal health care, and the GOP doesn't get to follow through on their plans to kill off the government.  Its a win-win solution!   Approached from this angle, the seemingly insane demand to defund the ACA becomes much less crazy.

The Republicans are fulfilling their mandate too. I argued that the Republican party -- having lost big in the race for the White House, having given up ground in the Senate, and having held onto its House majority in large part due to gerrymandering -- was over-reaching in making its all-or-nothing demands. A reader demurs:

Toward the end of your post, you emphasized that the Affordable Care Act was thoroughly tested in the 2012 elections: the President ran on it and won re-election, most Democratic Senate candidates ran on it and most of them won and the Democrats gained seats in the House while running on it.

All of that is true, and I emphasize that my sympathies are entirely with the Democratic side of the argument. I like Obamacare, I think the GOP is being shockingly intransigent and irrational, etc.

That elaborate throat-clearing out of the way, however, it is important to acknowledge one point: every Republican in the House won an election, too. And though I'm not intimately familiar with the details of every Congressional race, it seems safe to bet that every Republican in the House won an election in which he or she campaigned vigorously against Obamacare and promised to rid the country of it.

So it's right to point out that the President can fairly claim a mandate for the preservation of Obamacare. But so far as every House Republican is concerned, they have mandates for the repeal of Obamacare. They ran on exactly that platform, and a majority of their constituents approved of it. That sort of situation is just the reality of a divided system of government in which different officials are responsible to different constituencies. 

The deeper logic of the GOP stance. Another reader:

I'm not 100% the correct frame is the tea party inability to play with others.*

Broader Republican agendas are being pushed by this.  In particular, the CR  [continuing resolution, for stop-gap spending] continues the sequester cuts on the domestic side,  but begins restoring them on "military" spending.

Hugely important when you consider every government agency has been dipping into reserve funds in anticipation of normal funding being restored next year.  If you establish a new budget baseline that is a permanent cut in government funding.

The bad feelings has also limited talk of new taxes, in particular raising capital gains/investment income to normal income tax levels.

And I won't even suggest that the fed not "tapering" because of the fears of a government shutdown are not a huge give away to holders of wealth.

__

* I'd say the problem is more affiliated groups who have little interest in making sure current Republicans officeholders are re-elected, but do enjoy the massive fundraising this is presenting them.

A deeper and broader logic. From another reader:

The media is doing the public a disservice by failing to see the bigger picture in Republican intransigence. As you point out, this is not "gridlock." Most important, it is not simply an ideological protest against a particular reform. What is playing out here is a deliberate strategy to overturn a democratic election and weaken democracy itself.

The Republicans don't simply reject health care reform, they reject the legitimacy of the elected President, and, even more important, the legitimacy of the voters, along with their elected representatives, who rejected their positions in the last election.

The media, (and Democrats too), who think the Republicans care that, or believe that, shutdown and/or default will be "bad for them" in terms of public opinion may prove to be very naive. These revolutionaries have been strongly, consistently signaling their total rejection of a democratic election. So why assume, as so many do, they will ultimately care about, fear or respond to, any public outcry about or protest of damage resulting from a government shut down or even default?... 

Only concluding thought for now: I invite you to compare these observations, from a small sampling of readers who wrote in from around the country, with the "expert" analysis offered today by the Washington Post's editorialists. I've mentioned it before, but it bears loving re-examination. Here is its conclusion:

Ultimately, the grown-ups in the room will have to do their jobs, which in a democracy with divided government means compromising for the common good. 

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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