Daily Archives: August 21, 2009

Should Republicans Shut Down the Senate Over Health Care by Gregory Hilton

Democrats definitely do not have the 60 votes necessary to pass the health care public option, and they may now resort to the reconciliation process which requires only 51 votes. Conservative activist Gary Bauer is urging a GOP shutdown of the Senate in response. He may be correct but my fear is what happened when Republicans shut down the government for 25 days in 1995 when a compromise could not be reached on the budget.
A shut down of the Senate is not analogous to a shut down of the government, but the 1995 effort resulted in a significant setback to the Republican Party. Bill Clinton appeared to be the winner in the budget battle, and it gave him significant advantages going into his re-election campaign. We should of course make a major effort to stop the public option, but if we fail after a reasonable time, it might be just as well to take this issue to the voters in 2010.
The government shutdown of ’95 wound up closing down federal agencies which provided essential services and inconvenienced many people. This turned the tide against Republicans. Even if Democrats are successful with the reconciliation route, they would pay dearly for it in 2010. Republican could wait for the 2010 election because the public option is not scheduled to in effect until 2013.
On the other hand, Republicans could well have a mandate for a shutdown and they may not lose favor with constituents. Reconciliation would clearly be an undemocratic way of getting this done, when the majority of the public is opposed. During the 1994 shut down, Republicans were exposed because Speaker Gingrich added a personal bent to the proceedings which made it look extremely petty. Clinton got a major break when Speaker Gingrich made a widely-reported complaint about being snubbed by the White House. Former GOP Majority Leader Tom DeLay called it “the mistake of his Gingrich’s life”. Delay writes in his book, No Retreat, No Surrender:
“He told a room full of reporters that he forced the shutdown because Clinton had rudely made him and Bob Dole sit at the back of Air Force One…Newt had been careless to say such a thing, and now the whole moral tone of the shutdown had been lost. What had been a noble battle for fiscal sanity began to look like the tirade of a spoiled child. The revolution, I can tell you, was never the same.”
Gingrich’s complaint resulted in the perception that he was acting in a petty, egotistical manner. Later polling demonstrated that the event badly damaged Gingrich politically.