Last week, Roll Call reported that the “campaign rhetoric of tea party-inspired Republicans is on a collision course with the federal debt limit, which could make the threat of a government shutdown an early order of business in a new Republican majority.” Indeed, a number of leading Republicans have endorsed the idea of a government shutdown, from Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) to Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller, despite RNC Chairman Michael Steele’s claim that there aren’t “any candidates” proposing one.
In an interview with NPR today about what tea party-backed candidates would do if they gain seats in Congress, Utah GOP Senate nominee Mike Lee explicitly said he would refuse to vote to raise the debt limit, even if it leads to a government shutdown:
“Our current debt is a little shy of $14 trillion. And I don’t want it to increase 1 cent above the current debt limit and I will vote against that,” he says.
Even if it leads to government default and shutdown?
“It’s an inconvenience, it would be frustrating to many, many people and it’s not a great thing, and yet at the same time, it’s not something that we can rule out,” he says. “It may be absolutely necessary.”
As the Wonk Room’s Pat Garofalo noted yesterday, this is not the first time Lee — who is almost guaranteed to win Tuesday — has endorsed the idea of a government shutdown. At a recent town hall meeting, Lee went even further than on NPR, threatening a government shutdown if President Obama doesn’t agree to an immediate 40 percent reduction in the federal budget, outside of defense and Social Security.
Lee’s dismissal of a shutdown as a mere “inconvenience” shows a startling lack of sensitivity or understanding about what a shutdown would actually entail. As Newsweek’s Andrew Romano notes, satisfying Lee’s 40 percent cut demand “would require slashing every government program that’s not defense or Social Security” — including Medicare, veterans affairs, education, the FBI, and the border patrol — 89.6 percent.” Considering that the FBI just foiled a potentially major terrorist plot against the Washington, DC Metro system, a 90 percent reduction in their budget may not be the soundest policy idea.
But even beyond Lee’s absurd demand for a 40 percent cut, a government shutdown is far more than a mere “inconvenience.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s government shutdown in 1995 was disastrous; it ended up costing taxpayers over $800 million in losses for salaries paid to furloughed employees, delayed access to Medicare and Social Security, and caused a “[m]ajor curtailment in services,” including health services, to veterans.