Are Democrats Planning a Government Shutdown?

Democrats may be scheming to trap Republicans into shutting down the government, just like 1995.

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It was supposed to be the "December Surprise.”

Having failed in the November election to keep control of one or both houses of Congress, the Democrats, who also failed this year to complete a federal budget and to enact the appropriations bills needed to keep the federal government running, would come back to Washington, ostensibly to pass a continuing resolution, or CR, that would keep the government funded through January, when the new Congress comes in.

Continuing resolutions, more formally known as omnibus spending bills, are the stuff of legend. Not only are they laden down with pork-barrel spending but, unlike appropriations bills, they can be used to create new programs, make new laws, and do all sorts of things that are otherwise politically unpopular and could not be accomplished under regular order.

In the December surprise scenario, the Democrats, who would still largely have the same majority in place after the election as they would before it, would toss into the CR a couple of provisions that Republicans simply could not vote for. There is no telling yet what those might be, but they could be anything from card check and a “cap and trade” energy tax to something apparently minor having to do with abortions at overseas U.S. military hospitals or funding for embryonic stem cell research.

The idea is not to see any of these items actually become law but to include them in the CR because their inclusion would force the Republicans into opposing it, even to the point of using the filibuster to keep it off the Senate floor. The result being that the federal government would run out of money and have to shut down.

This would allow the Democrats to achieve their political objective, which is to be able to loudly proclaim that the first thing the GOP did after winning the national election was to shut the government down, just like in 1995.

It would only have to go on for two or three days for the point to be made. The Democrats think that being able to, once again, label the GOP as “the party of the shutdown” would be a political winner, teeing up the 2012 election in a way that is helpful to them.

It’s about the only trick they have left. In their minds the 1995 shut down put them back on the road to political power. After all, Clinton was re-elected the very next year.

But, as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and others have observed, the shut down proved the GOP was serious about curtailing, even controlling spending and led, eventually, to a series of nearly-balanced budgets that eventually produced a government surplus, when certain entitlements were factored out of the equation because they are, in the vernacular of the nation’s capitol, “off budget.”

Thanks, however, to an ill-timed, ill-considered remark by Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland, the issue of a possible shut down has dropped into the pre-election debate.

The White House cheerfully jumped on Westmoreland’s comment as White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer blogged “While the President was laying out bipartisan solutions to continue creating jobs, this Republican Congressman was rallying his political base in favor of his preferred solution—simply shutting the government down altogether.”

Casting his boss as the hero and the GOP as the goat, Pfeiffer continued, “The President is offering a vision about how to move the country forward and help middle class Americans and small business owners, Republicans in Congress are busy telling partisans and Republican party activists to get prepared for the same stalemate and gridlock they brought the last time they were in charge.”

Not to be tricked, however, was House Republican Leader John Boehner, who jumped into the discussion with both feet in order to reassure the American electorate that the GOP had no such plans. “Our goal is to have a smaller, less costly and more accountable government here in Washington D.C. Our goal is not to shut down the government,” the Ohio Republican said.

If the government does shut down after the election it will because the Democrats have tried to press a political advantage for political purposes, not because of some larger philosophical debate. The GOP, to protect its own flanks, should begin to press House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for an agreement on a clean post-election CR now. If the Democrats refuse to agree, it can only be for one reason.

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