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Imagining a 2011 Government Shutdown

For a late Sunday afternoon right before I’m headed out to a concert, this seems like an excellent launching point for discussion from John Quiggin:

I’ve been too absorbed by my book projects and by Australian politics (of which more soon) to pay a lot of attention to the forthcoming US elections, but it seems to be widely projected that the Republicans could regain control of the House of Representatives. What surprises me is that no-one has drawn the obvious inference as to what will follow, namely a shutdown of the US government.

It seems obvious to me that a shutdown will happen – the Republicans of today are both more extreme and more disciplined than last time they were in a position to shut down the government, and they did it then. And they hate Obama at least as much now as they hated Clinton in 1995 (maybe not quite as much as they hated him by 2000, but they are getting there faster this time).

The 1995 shutdown ended really badly for the Republicans, because they had to endure the blame for creating it. This was early on in the Gingrich days, and maybe the right-wing noise machine wasn’t fully formed enough to deal with the blowback. Then again, the Democrats weren’t exactly well-represented on television at the time, either.

So there are two questions: will Republicans bother to try this, and who will succeed? Quiggin seems sure that they would give it a shot, and he makes some excellent points. Heck, they’re blocking unemployment benefits right now, so I don’t think anything’s beyond the pale. The only possible restraining element would be that past history. But if they see a way to pin government dysfunction on the President, they’ll go for it. I think there’s more infrastructure on the Democratic side to deal with this, but also less sympathy inside the elite media. So the outcome wouldn’t be entirely clear-cut. I could absolutely see the President accede to some crazy demand to get the House Republicans to stand down, with the teabaggers cheering them on. But it is a risk for the GOP.

What’s more likely is that Darrell Issa will drive a bunch of meaningless scandals about White House Christmas cards and the travel office and where Obama gets a haircut into endless Oversight Committee hearings, all designed to take a nick out of the President and lead to some dastardly offense suitable for impeachment.


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David Dayen

David Dayen