Pain and Suffering
Posted on September 19, 2013
Dick Armey, the former House Majority Leader and the former head of Freedom Works, used to say in leadership meetings, “the pain is mandatory but the suffering is optional.”
In those days, when Armey’s role in the leadership was scheduling the floor for both Newt Gingrich and my former boss, Denny Hastert, it wasn’t easy to convince Republicans that they had to govern.
That’s not so different from today I guess.
Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, don’t necessarily buy in to the whole idea of a big Federal government.
They look at all of the big buildings that dot the nation’s Capitol, like the Department of Education or the Department of Energy or the Department of Agriculture, and they ask : what the hell do all of these people do in those buildings?
Back in the mid-1990s’, House Republicans made a run at getting rid of the Education Department. They even held a vote on it.
But then they discovered that by railing against the Education Department, they seemed like they were railing against the public education, and they found that their approval ratings, especially among female voters, started to drop precipitously.
When George W. Bush became President, he learned that lesson, and throughout his 8 years in office, his principle message on education was that he doubled the funding for school programs.
In 1995 and 1996, Newt Gingrich, Mr. Armey and Tom DeLay, promised that they would shut the government down unless the President capitulated to their demands to a more responsible budget.
The Republicans wanted to cut taxes to spur economic growth and cut spending, especially entitlement spending.
The message was clear. You give us a deal on the budget or we will shut the government down.
When the Republicans actually did what they said they were going to do, they were surprised that the media actually blamed them for doing what they said they were going to do, which I always found amusing.
Shutting the government down at first wasn’t catastrophic. We weren’t at war, the Republicans had won a pretty big election the year before, and they had a coherent budget plan, which included welfare reform, which was very popular at the time.
But eventually, the worm turned and the public turned on Newt Gingrich.
And it wasn’t pretty.
You would have hoped that the new class of Republicans would have learned the lessons of the 1990’s, especially about government shut-downs. I guarantee that John Boehner learned them, because he was at the leadership table during the last extending government shut-down. He knows that if the government shuts down, Republicans will be blamed.
But as any parent knows, kids have to learn things for themselves. Parents can do all that they can to warn of the dangers of this thing or that, but on some things, kids have to make their own mistakes.
And if you look at the current make-up of the Congress, especially on the House side, but also in the Upper Chamber, it is a pretty green group. Only around 100 members were in Congress the last time there was a prolonged shut-down and about 200 members have only been around since 2009.
That’s not a lot of experience.
On the Senate side, a freshman is driving the shut-down train. Ted Cruz has all of the academic qualifications to be seen as a “smart guy." And maybe he has it all figured out.
But something tells me that he doesn’t understand the basics of legislating.
First, you can’t force a President to repeal a law that he signed and proudly supports by the threatening to shut the government down or default on the debt.
Second, you can’t urge the House to go on a Kamikaze mission while you sit in your palatial Senate hideaway and expect to get away with it.
Third, you can’t nakedly manufacture a crisis and then reap the fundraising benefits of such crisis by running ads on Fox News Radio without some people (ok, most sane people) questioning your ultimate motives.
But thanks to the Cruz’s cruising for email addresses and campaign contributions, the House will be forced to go through a Kabuki dance.
They will pass a full defunding of Obamacare on a short-term continuing resolution, thereby giving House Republicans the vote they need to say they voted once again to get rid of Obamacare.
Then the Senate will have to pass a CR, sans said ACA defunding language, probably at higher spending levels than passed the House. Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and who knows who else, will try to filibuster said CR, and they will lose. They will also look silly in the process to most Americans, except for those suckers who initially bought into their empty promises and sent them campaign contributions through a website advertised on Rush and the Fox News radio station.
Cruz will update his ads, showing him fearlessly fighting for freedom and against Obamacare, but he can only succeed if you send him 5, 10 or 100 dollars (preferably a c-note).
But of course, Cruz will lose, and then Reid will send the CR back to House, and the House will have to make a decision. Do they want to keep the government opened or do they want to help Ted Cruz raise even more money on his website?
And that point, Boehner will send a CR back to the Senate with the lower spending levels, and we get a chance to see Ted Cruz filibuster again (isn’t this great fun?).
It shouldn’t be this painful for Republicans to keep the focus on keeping the government opened, but it will be.
And guess what? We get the chance to go through the same dance with the debt limit.
In the meantime, Ben Bernanke will keep the Fed’s discount window wide open, because, as he points out, there is significant downside risk emanating from the Congress.
Neither the pain nor the suffering is optional this Fall. That’s just the way it is.