As this year’s federal government shutdown pageant nears its debut, there’s an interesting new twist to this senseless exercise.
Traditionally, the negotiations over the bill that keeps the government running have been a flashpoint between Republicans and Democrats, and this year, the parties are throwing a lot of rhetoric at each other, as always. Both sides look like they’re going through the motions as they plod through the talking points they used in the last shutdown standoff and the one before that.
This year, the real fight is the one that has emerged within the Republican Party between hardliners and those who say it’s time to acknowledge shutdown politics as a loser and move on. Republicans argue about a lot of things, but this disagreement gets to how they intend to govern.
Former President Donald Trump put his capital-letter stamp on the dispute Monday, heartily endorsing what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been racing to head off.
“UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!” Trump wrote, which sure sounds like his main objective is to shut it down.
If Republicans in Congress aren’t serious about controlling the budget, Gov. Brian Kemp said last week in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, they should “just pass the damn bill” and get the best they can get out of their negotiations with the Democrats.
“Why not have some sort of spending bill that would help secure the border even though you’re not getting everything you want? Take the win and show people you know how to govern,” Kemp said.
Interestingly, Kemp made these comments in the same interview in which he said he’d support Trump if he wins the Republican presidential nomination. Not that Kemp would have said anything else, for all the howls he drew from Democrats. Kemp’s remarks about the budget negotiations could be depicted as another disagreement between the governor and Trump, but this dispute predates both of them. It’s becoming an argument about the effectiveness of brinksmanship as a recurrent strategy, a question that could have been asked 20 shutdowns ago.
Georgia’s Republican delegation appears widely split, from those who can’t wait to vote against the budget bill (Rep. Andrew Clyde) to those who can’t help but vote against it (Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is a key McCarthy supporter but has vowed not to vote for a bill which includes funding for Ukraine) to those like Reps. Barry Loudermilk and Rick Allen who are deeply concerned about the political effects of a shutdown.
It’s hard to say how the current standoff will be resolved, except that eventually it will be, at some cost, large or small, to the nation. When a strategy yields so little as this one has in numerous attempts, you have to wonder if it has been really about something other than legislative victories. Some budget hardliners will raise money during this time, but there are more complicated reasons why Republicans return to the brink again and again.
William Buckley once said that a conservative was someone who “stands athwart history, yelling Stop.” Debt ceiling negotiations and the occasional government shutdown seem to scratch that itch. No one seriously expects that the engine of government is going to be shut down for very long, but yelling “Stop” can be very gratifying, even if it’s only temporary. The grumblings of long-time conservatives like Loudermilk suggest that the costs of scratching that itch have grown too great to ignore, however.
Democrats also have a lot to lose if a shutdown has a negative effect on the national economy, but they are fairly limited in what they can do about it. Senate Democrats were taking action Monday to pass a stopgap budget bill this week and push McCarthy to bring it to the floor for a vote. With the hardliners in his caucus threatening his job at every turn, McCarthy finds himself in an unenviable position. Then again, that’s almost the definition of the job he fought for.