How long will the shutdown last and who will take the fall for it?

How long will the shutdown last and who will take the fall for it?

Obama in re shutdown
‘You deserve better…’

In case you’ve been stranded on a desert island or in a coma up until today, the U.S. government officially shut down last midnight. It’s already in the books. From Wikipedia (links and footnote numbers stripped out for ease of readability):

The United States federal government entered a shutdown on October 1, 2013, suspending services deemed ‘non-essential’ by the Antideficiency Act.

The shutdown was a result of political conflicts among Democratic President Barack Obama, the Democratic-controlled Senate, and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. These conflicts center on funding for and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare.

The president, not missing a beat, released a message shortly after the witching hour came and went, looking typically dyspeptic as he said, “You and your families deserve better than the dysfunction we’re seeing in Congress.” The statement wasn’t meant for everyone — just U.S. troops. Optimists will say he was functioning as commander-in-chief and alerting his forces of a critical development. Realists will say he was ratting out the “party responsible for the shutdown” so that active members of the military, who voted against Obama by a margin of 2 to 1 in 2012, would know who to blame.

So will Republicans be held responsible for the shutdown? Obama and the Democrats have been banking on that reading. Democratic lawmakers are hoping to pick up seats in Congress and possibly even retake the House. The president also hopes to make political hay, using GOP obstinacy over a “law of the land” to shore up his legacy, which took a serious hit in the wake of his bungling on Syria.

With the health care exchanges off to a less than auspicious start on the same day that the shutdown took effect, it is hard to know how the dust will eventually settle. It may be instructive to look back at the shutdown of 1995 and 1996, which occurred under similar conditions. A Democrat, Bill Clinton, was president. The House of Representatives was controlled by the opposition party. (The Senate was as well, but since the chief adversaries were Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, that fact is beside the point.)

The shutdown occurred in two phases — from Nov. 14 through Nov. 19, 1995 and from Dec. 16, 1995 to Jan. 6, 1996 — for a total of 28 days.

Some of the tangible effects included:

Curtailment of health and welfare services for military veterans;

  • A stoppage in disease surveillance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;
  • A rejection by the National Institutes of Health of new clinical research patients;
  • A halt in toxic waste clean-up work at 609 sites;
  • The closure of 368 National Park sites, resulting in the loss of some seven million visitors;
  • A decline in U.S. tourism and the airline industry, resulting in millions of dollars of revenue losses;
  • A loss of more than 20% of federal contracts, representing a concomitant loss of $3.7 billion.

As to who took the heat, consider that during the shutdown Clinton’s approval ratings dropped precipitously. But they began to rise again afterwards. According to George Stephanopoulus, writing in his book “All Too Human,” the shutdown helped Clinton win a second term.

Clinton approval ratings during shutdownThe GOP was also able to claim a victory. Gingrich was able to leverage the shutdown into passage of the balanced-budget deal in 1997 and the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s. The party lost three seats in the House in 1996 but retained control and picked up two seats in the Senate.

But that was then and this is now. Then the president was a man who, despite his limitations, was flexible enough to move toward the center when the political temperature of the nation dictated he should do so. Now the president is a man so rigid and unmovable that he refuses to acknowledge the conspicuous lack of public appetite for his health care reform law in its current incarnation. His focus is so narrow and blindered that he stubbornly insists efforts to delay or rewrite the job-killing law are borne of a desire to rob him of the signature legislative achievement of his presidency.

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Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy

Howard Portnoy has written for The Blaze, HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, Smart Life with Dr. Gina, and The George Espenlaub Show.


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