The Looming Government Shutdown & Why the Democrats Can’t Let it Happen

By Kent R. Kroeger (Source:, January 19, 2018)

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With a federal government shutdown looming on the horizon, I am reminded of one of Hamlet‘s most iconic lines:   “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”

The ‘lady’ in the present context is the Democratic Party and their protestation is over the damage to the Republican Party (!) that will result if the Congress and Trump administration do not come to a timely deal on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and border security in order to avert a shutdown.

CNN’s Chris Cillizza writes: “If House Republicans can’t find a way to wrangle their always-fractious conference to support legislation that would avoid a government shutdown by Friday night, they are likely to bear the brunt of the blame for the closure and pay a serious political price as well.”

And why?

“Republicans control the House, they control the Senate and they control the presidency,” Vermont Sen. Pat Leahy told CNN. “The government stays open if they want it to stay open and shuts down if they want it to shut down.”

“The Republican gambit to blame Democrats — who control neither the House, Senate nor White House — for failure to keep the government running was always a long shot,” opines The Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin. “They’ve tried to convince dubious voters that Democrats are creating a shutdown because of that party’s desire to protect dreamers under the Obama-era DACA…That’s daft since, once again, a majority of Republicans are available to vote for a spending bill with no DACA fix.”

Daft? I don’t know, but disingenuous for sure.

In truth, congressional Democrats know the Republicans do not fear government shutdowns the way they do. Granted, it backfired on the Republicans with Clinton in 1995. But that was a different time and the Democrats had a once-in-a-generation leader at the national podium to argue their case.

This is 2018 and establishment Democrats are terrified at this new government shutdown threat, as they have been with every government shutdown in recent memory (we’ve had four since 1990). Why? Because of this potential outcome: the American public might barely notice.

That is why, if it happens, the media will bury the public in stories about how the Henderson family from Iowa, on their first vacation since the tornado destroyed the family farm, were turned away from Old Faithful. Or the 98-year-old World War II veteran that loses his last chance to visit the WWII memorial in D.C. because some mean-looking, underpaid park employee put up a “Closed Due to Gov’t Shutdown” sign on a $30 sawhorse being used as a makeshift barricade.

All those ‘non-essential’ federal government employees that will have to stay at home and wait days, maybe weeks, to find out they will ultimately be paid for their unscheduled time off during the shutdown.

Yes, there will be sad stories to be told. And they will be told..over…and over…and over again.

For the other 95 percent of Americans, when the federal government does shutdown, Social Security checks still get cut and sent, our men and women in uniform continue to protect U.S. interests throughout the world, and our borders remain secure (…with that last clause, feel free to fill in your own joke here: ___________________).

The Republicans know what they are doing and they don’t care

In the past year, the federal government has been undergoing a real-world experiment at the behest of the Trump administration which wants to know:  Do we really need a Department of State, Interior, Energy, Education, Health and Human Services, Commerce, Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, Labor or Transportation?

Department of State

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has all but established himself as a one-man Department of State. We may still have diplomats posted overseas and Foggy Bottom bureaucrats writing memos, sitting in meetings, and getting paid. But they have been neutered by a Secretary that openly ignores their expertise and guidance.

The result? Early signs are looking positive that North Korea will come to the bargaining table which may lead to their giving up their nuclear ambitions. It is still early, of course, but it is beginning to look like all that Foggy Bottom expertise we’ve been told to admire for the previous 30 years isn’t worth all that much. From this desk, the foreign-policy-expert class seem best at maintaining a status quo that keeps them at the top of the policy-making pyramid and benefits few others.

Department of Interior

When Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke isn’t blocking his own employees from attending professional meetings related to their scientific fields, he’s avoiding his own meetings. Just this week, 10 out of 12 members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service quit because Secretary Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year. How can we paralyze your leadership if you won’t even meet with us?!

Environmental Protection Agency

And let us not forget the Environmental Protection Agency. Current EPA Director Scott Pruitt is another Trump appointee that doesn’t like to show up for meetings. Apparently, it’s hard to make environmental policy in private with Exxon-Mobil when you’re dragged into all those long, boring meetings that go on the public record. Besides, those EPA meetings can get so sciency.

If the federal bureaucrats were smart, they’d schedule meetings in exotic places on short notice so Zinke and Pruitt are forced to fly to them using chartered flights on the taxpayer’s dime.

It is not cynical or unwarranted to conclude, Trump’s political appointees don’t care about saving taxpayer dollars or making their bureaucracy work smarter. Moreover, they think you’re a bunch of envious philistines that would be doing the same thing if you had done what it takes to get into their position in life.

The GOP hasn’t been hiding their plan

Within the intellectual crucibles of the Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute in the 1990s, the Republican Party’s literati class openly formulated a plan to reorganize American civil society. These various plans had four steps in common: (1) Starve the federal government of its power source (i.e., taxpayer money), (2) deregulate the economy, (3) protect funding for the national defense and security establishment, and (4) watch the rest of the federal government die on the vine.

It’s not like they were hiding their intentions. They’ve talked about all of those policy elements every day since…forever. At least since the early 1990s, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist, Bill Kristol, Richard Perle, Antonin Scalia, and more, have to varying degrees openly advocated for the destruction of the activist State.

In Donald Trump, they have their ultimate avatar and now they are doing what they’ve talked about doing for more 30 years.

Will the Democrats be able to defend the State this time?

For all of his many flaws, Bill Clinton was never fooled by the Republicans when he was president. (OK, yes, the Republicans stole his lunch money on health care reform and the Democrats paid a steep price for that failure…but after that Hillary-led debacle, Bill Clinton was rarely fooled again.)

From his founding of the Democratic Leadership Council in the 1980s, he warned the Democrats about this Republican project to de-legitimize government solutions to social problems. When Ronald Reagan brought his charismatic brand of anti-government liberalism to Washington, D.C., he struck at the core of what animates the post-Watergate Democratic Party that had come to believe only the federal government can really solve problems. Leave problems to the states, and you get states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

Clinton’s belief in the power of government to do good things, tempered by a respect for the ability of private economic interests to obstruct this power, fueled the Clinton compromise: A constant advocacy for ‘government-private sector’ cooperation. You could call it the ‘if-you-can’t-beat-em-join-em‘ approach to public policy– featuring expansive deregulation in the private economy, real reductions in the size of the federal government, and tax cuts for the middle class. Whatever you call it, Clinton’s experiment in the 1990s led to one of the longest U.S. economic expansions since World War II.

My father called Bill Clinton the greatest Republican president of his lifetime. Being an FDR Democrat, he said that as a put down. But his critique of Clinton was more deft than he realized. Somehow, Clinton was able to sellout almost every identity group in the Democratic coalition (African-Americans, the LGBTQ community, working-class Democrats) and still leave office with near record high approval ratings. The Gallup numbers don’t lie. NAFTA may have accelerated the gutting of this country’s manufacturing base, but you wouldn’t have known it by talking to the very people hurt most by those anti-labor, globalist policies. Bill Clinton and the neoliberal ideology he popularized “bestrode the world like a colossus,” foreign policy experts Manfred Steger and Ravi Roy once wrote. A strong economy and an inept opposition party will do that.

But here we sit in 2018 with a similarly strong economy and a presidential administration prepared to finally carry out the GOP’s four-step-plan.

Can the Democrats count on the ineptitude of the Republican Party this time around to prevent the wholesale deconstruction of the State?

The New York Times, The Washington Post, CNN, and MSNBC want you to believe it is Newt Gingrich and the Contract on America all over again. Our much-maligned fourth estate thinks they are exposing the Republicans again as a bunch of bumbling, stupid, racist, and misogynist hillbillies. Thank God their voters only live in the ugly, middle parts of our country, they say to themselves.

Unfortunately for the Democrats, some important elements today are different. For one, the Republicans control, if only nominally, all the branches of government.

Second, their leader, as vulgar and ill-spoken as he can be, inspires extreme loyalty among a third of the American public. Name somebody else that has that level and breadth of support behind them?

Donald Trump reminds me of former Dallas Cowboy offensive lineman Larry Allen, who some consider to be the greatest offensive lineman in NFL history. Allen was so dominant in the 1990s that he would actually go into his offensive stance mimicking a train whistle anytime a running play was going in his direction. The defensive lineman knew the play was going through Allen and they still couldn’t stop it (…it helped having Emmitt Smith as the running back).

That may be what the Democrats face today. Trump is telling them what he intends to do: Starve the government; neglect and abuse D.C.’s bureaucratic establishment, and unshackle the private sector from government (and public) perlustration. Shutting down the government doesn’t preclude any of those goals.

So when Trump says he’s willing to risk a government shutdown to get his ‘Wall’ and whatever else he comes up with between now and tomorrow, he means it.

This is why it is not the congressional Republicans that need to worry about the impending government shutdown. It is the Democrats.


K. R. K.

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About the author:  Kent Kroeger is a writer and statistical consultant with over 30 -years experience measuring and analyzing public opinion for public and private sector clients. He also spent ten years working for the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and the Defense Intelligence Agency. He holds a B.S. degree in Journalism/Political Science from The University of Iowa, and an M.A. in Quantitative Methods from Columbia University (New York, NY).  He lives in Ewing, New Jersey with his wife and son.