Saturday, February 19, 2011

Previews of Coming Attractions

The House voted last night to cut spending drastically for the rest of the fiscal year, setting up a confrontation between them, the Senate, and the White House, and leading possibly to a shut-down of the government in two weeks.

The last time that happened was in 1995 when the Republicans, under the banner of Newt Gingrich, did it to President Clinton. It did not end well for the GOP; Mr. Gingrich was seen as arrogant and reckless, doing it more out of a fit of pique and personal pride — he had to ride in the back of Air Force One coming back from Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral and complained about it — and Bill Clinton played it cool, taking it in stride, knowing that it would be the Republicans, who were asking for too much at once, who would get blamed for it. So he let the shutdown go forth. Less than a year later, Mr. Clinton was re-elected, the GOP lost some seats, and when they tried to remove Mr. Clinton for getting a blow job, it was Newt Gingrich who ended up losing his job.

The shutdown in 1995 also brought home to the American people just how much they needed the federal government. It wasn’t just the people who work for the government who were sent home; non-essential personnel were sent home and non-essential services were shut down. That meant more than just the parks and museums were closed. In 1995, the Veterans Hospital in Albuquerque sent their non-emergency staff home, as did the defense labs. Things we take for granted were suddenly not available, including those monthly checks from Social Security because the people from the printing plant where the checks were processed were not there. The shutdown had a ripple effect to state and local governments since a lot of the money they use to pay for services such as education entitlements (Title I, for example) are funded through the federal government. It also meant that businesses who depended on the government employees — like retailers — saw the effects; if you’re not being paid, you’re not shopping for food and clothing or putting gas in the car or paying your credit cards, mortgage, and utility bills. In short, the people who complain about having too much government found out that it’s a lot easier to say that than live with it.

It reminds me of one of best episodes of The West Wing when President Jed Bartlet faced a similar situation.

I wonder if President Obama will find the same backbone and deal with the GOP in the same way… and then throw in a Top Chef promo as well.