The Shutdown Is Not 'Everybody's Fault'

The crisis is a failure of governance, but one party is entirely to blame.

National Journal

Come crisis time, it's the time-tested method for playing it safe. You issue a mealy-mouthed statement about how "both sides are to blame" for not reaching a deal. You say both Democrats and Republicans need to compromise, and you claim magnanimity in your support of a "balanced" compromise. You write "Come together" on your coffee cup.

But this time around, that's all nonsense. Where you place blame for the shutdown depends entirely on how you answer its fundamental question: Do Republicans have the right to demand policy concessions — namely, Obamacare concessions — in exchange for extending the federal budget?

If you believe that Republicans deserve policy concessions, then responsibility for the shutdown rests entirely with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, President Obama, and their fellow Democrats.

After all, when it comes to Obamacare, the run-up to shutdown saw House Republicans take big steps toward compromise. They started the debate demanding Obamacare be entirely defunded. Then they moved to a request that the health care law be delayed a year and its medical-device tax permanently repealed. And by their third and fourth attempts, Republicans were attacking only the law's subsidies for Congress and the administration — a crucial aspect for beltway residents, but a purely symbolic blow on the national level.

All of them, from gutting the law to pricking it, got the exact same reaction from Reid: no deal.

But if you believe Republicans are responsible for keeping the government open, and they don't deserve any policy perks for doing so, then the shutdown blame is theirs and theirs alone.

Within that paradigm, Republicans are demanding something for nothing. They're demanding changes to Obamacare without offering to back any of Democrats' top policy priorities. No gay marriage, no gun control, no higher tax rates for the highest earners, no public option, no nothing.

And from a purely fiscal perspective, the policy-free budget extension is a straight-down-the-middle compromise. It doesn't include the further spending cuts Republicans covet, nor does it include any Democratic priorities such as additional funding for domestic programs or a reverse of the sequester.

So you can believe that Republicans forced a shutdown by taking the government hostage to muscle through changes they couldn't get through regular order. Or you can blame Democrats for refusing to make any changes whatsoever to Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government open.

But you can't blame them both.