In recent weeks, a growing number of Republican lawmakers and candidates have voiced support for the idea of shutting down the government if they win control of the House next year. Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), Steve King (R-IA), Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), and Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller have openly called for a shutdown, while Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) has given a tacit endorsement. Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was the architect of the first shutdown in 1995, has already devised a scheme to repeat the failed tactic.
However, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele is apparently oblivious to the words of his own party’s candidates, or intentionally trying to ignore them, as he said today on Fox News that he hadn’t heard of “any candidates” calling for a government shutdown. He then quickly pivoted away to irrelevant GOP talking points, without ever denying that he or his party support the idea of a shutdown:
HOST: What about this idea of shutting down the government? … Have you heard any candidates out there saying that that’s what they want to do? That that’s what they’re going to do once they get to Washington?
STEELE: I have not heard any candidates say that. But I know for a fact that, and I can tell you that again, I’ve been saying this for a year now, that the class of 2010 that comes to the Congress in January 2011 to elect a new speaker is going to be very different from anything we’ve seen or heard before.
Even if Steele is somehow unfamiliar with King, Miller, and the others, he should at least be acquainted with his own statements, as he plainly left the door open for a government shutdown less than three weeks ago. Asked about the “possibility of a government shutdown if Republicans get control of Congress,” Steele replied: “Well, anything can happen.” “We’ll see who the leadership is, how big the margins are, what the numbers in the new Congress look like.”
Gingrich’s shutdown — actually two back-to-back shutdowns — were an unmitigated disaster. The closure ended up costing taxpayers over $800 million in losses for salaries paid to furloughed employees, while it delayed enrollment for 400,000 newly eligible Medicare participants, and 112,000 Social Security applicants. Meanwhile, federal law enforcement were hampered by significant case backlogs (and the delayed hiring of new border guards), the Center for Disease Control’s disease tracking system shutdown, clean up work stopped at 609 toxic waste sites, tens of thousands of visa and passport applications were delayed, and 2 million visitors were turned away from National Parks. Perhaps most disturbingly, veterans were hit with a “[m]ajor curtailment in services,” including health services, a Congressional Research Service report found.
But just in case Steele forgot all this, he can just ask Republican Sen. Judd Gregg (NH), the ranking GOP member on the Senate Budget Committee, who said this morning on CNBC that the 1995 shutdown “was a serious mistake, tactically and substantively.” Gregg added that “government shutdowns don’t work”:
HOST: What was so bad about ’94? [...]
GREGG: The government shutdown was probably a serious mistake, tactically and substantively. … No, government shutdowns don’t work. You know, I mean, you can’t — I mean, we’d all like to do it in theory, but as a practical matter, there things this government has to do. It does them reasonably well, such as national defense. And you’ve got to do it. … You cannot, for example, if you put the government on automatic pilot by shutting it down, you do nothing about the welfare, and the healthcare, and the entitlement issues which are driving the deficit and the debt.
And even if Steele — who has repeatedly said “I don’t do policy” — is unconvinced by the substantive problems with a shutdown, he should be able to understand the political fallout. The 1995 shutdown was extremely unpopular among the public, especially after Gingrich suggested to a room full of reporters that the shutdown was aimed to punish President Clinton for “rudely” making Gingrich and then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole sit in the back of Air Force One. “The end result was that the public blamed the GOP for the impasse, and Clinton’s approval ratings went back up and he was re-elected easily,” TPM noted.