News and Commentary

Memo To GOP: There Is Nothing Wrong With A Little Government Shutdown

The federal government is set to run out of money in two days’ time and, as Ted Kennedy might have muttered to himself half-consciously while stumbling into the Chappaquiddick police station after drowning Mary Jo Kopechne: “This may not end well.”

The issue of the month, and the focal point around which this latest stanza of the recurring D.C. budget battle royale is unfolding, is immigration. Suffice it to say that there is no issue (with the possible exception of healthcare) more manifestly well-suited for an all-out Republican Party capitulation than the immigration issue. The Democrats want their legislative codification of Barack Obama’s (lawless) DACA amnesty. The Republicans pay nominal lip service to border security and incremental reforms toward a more merit-based legal immigration regime. We know how this story ends.

On the immigration merits, I agree with my friend Daniel Horowitz that the House-introduced Goodlatte/McCaul/Labrador/McSally bill represents the bare minimum that conservatives should be willing to accept for a formal codification of any amnesty. But with Speaker Paul Ryan apparently out to lunch, focus has shifted to a much-ballyhooed “bipartisan” proposal in the Senate. I put “bipartisan” in scare quotes because, with the party having plenary control over both chambers of Congress and the White House alike, this exercise in self-flagellation only serves nominal Republican interests in much the same way three scoops of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream serves nominal nutritional interests.

“The No. 1 rule in any negotiation is don’t take yourself hostage,” cautions incisive former FBI hostage negotiator Christopher Voss. “Thank you sir, may I have another?” responds the meek GOP.

Alternatively, if the fresh “bipartisan” Senate proposal dies like Hillary Clinton’s Wisconsin ground game, Scott Wong of The Hill reports that GOP leadership will seek not a comprehensive appropriations package but a DACA-less continuing resolution. Which, in layman’s terms, means we would just need to wait until the CR’s expiration for the GOP to pass the Democrats’ coveted amnesty.

How much longer does the Republican Party expect to prolong this charade? Do they really think we have not noticed its legerdemain?

Fortunately, there is a deceptively obvious solution. Indeed, as Taylor Swift once sang in positively delightful fashion before misanthropically veering off into the realm of pop rap the musically unintelligible, conservatives now “dream[ ] about the day when [the GOP] wake[s] up [a]nd find[s] that what [it’s] looking for has been here the whole time.” The solution that has been here the whole time, quite simply, is a genuine and earnest willingness to shut down the federal government in order to demand that conservative budgetary priorities are actually transformed from lofty campaign rhetoric into concrete governance.

In other words, actually try to win a game of chicken. What a novel concept!

It really ought to not be asking that much to ask that the party that fully controls both of the political branches of the federal government enact some of its top priorities into budgetary law. It is simply a truism that, in a negotiation, all morally defensible means can and should be employed to reach a desired end. In the context of a budgetary standoff, there is simply nothing immoral whatsoever for the purported party of limited government to use as a negotiating cudgel a genuine threat to … temporarily put out of commission parts of the government. And to assuage the RINO conscience, federal employees furloughed during a government shutdown even get back pay!

This is not rocket science. As I put it last April:

The overarching tragedy of the GOP’s preemptive budget surrender is that, as Mark Levin and others have long argued, government shutdowns should be feared by Republicans far less than they should be feared by Democrats for the precise reason that government shutdowns usually disproportionately hurt progressivism and redound to conservatism’s long-term interests. By furloughing many government workers and temporarily shutting off many government programs without having planes fall out of the sky or the nation’s electrical grid suddenly compromised, the fundamental case is oftentimes made to casual observers that the federal Leviathan simply need not be this massive and intrusive to be functional.

Moreover, as the GOP’s internal intellectual inconsistency from the Ted Cruz-led government shutdown of 2013 (which GOP leadership opposed, since the GOP was the minority party) through the capitulatory rhetoric of 2017-2018 (where GOP leadership opposes shutdown standoffs, since the GOP is the governing party) demonstrates, it is hardly obvious that it is the governing or minority party that necessarily stands a greater chance of benefiting from a government shutdown. The recent history of government shutdowns only corroborates this point. Following the 1990 government shutdown under a GOP president, the GOP lost fewer seats in the House (nine) than the average number of seats that the president’s party had lost in midterm elections since World War II (29), up until that point. Following the Newt Gingrich-led shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, Republicans actually expanded their Senate majority while only losing eight House seats. And the midterm election of 2014, which followed the aforementioned Cruz-led shutdown of 2013, was famously successful for the GOP: It recaptured the Senate and padded its House majority.

That the party of limited government stands to disproportionately benefit from partially shutting down the government and furloughing a menagerie of hapless bureaucrats ought to be intuitively obvious. As Jonah Goldberg wryly inquired in response to yesterday’s news that the National Parks System Advisory Board currently lacks a quorum to designate national historic or natural landmarks:

Perhaps it really is too much to ask that Republicans actually do sing paeans to slashing non-essential bureaucracies and wax poetic about the halcyon days of pre-Progressive Era federal governance. But at minimum, it is not too much to ask that the party of limited government use all the tools in its arsenal to achieve its ostensibly desired budgetary priorities — let alone where use of the party’s most hardline tool available, the government shutdown, only works to the long-term benefit of classical liberals and constitutional conservatives. Perhaps we cannot terminate the Department of Education in its entirety tomorrow, but surely we can furlough a cornucopia of “deep state” mandarins and demonstrate to the country that airplanes will not suddenly begin colliding at 35,000 feet.

Don’t blink next time, Republicans. And be willing to shut it down.