Shutdown Foes

Who’s Really ‘Winning’ the Government Shutdown Debate

Jamelle Bouie on the GOP feeding frenzy after an Obama official said the White House was ‘winning’ the shutdown debate.

Republicans, still struggling to turn the shutdown into something instigated by President Obama, got a small assist Friday morning when an anonymous White House official said the administration was “winning” the debate and that “it doesn’t really matter” how long the shutdown lasts.

Much like Obama’s “You didn’t build that” quote during the presidential election—which, it should be said, meant nothing for the outcome of the race—the comment in Friday’s Wall Street Journal has sparked a feeding frenzy among Republicans. House Speaker John Boehner went to the press to declare: “This isn’t some damn game…The American people don’t want their government shut down and neither do I. All we’re asking for is to sit down and have a discussion and to bring fairness—reopen the government and bring fairness to the American people under Obamacare. It’s as simple as that. But it all has to begin with a simple discussion.”

Boehner’s request is nonsense. The continuing resolution isn’t the place for broad budget negotiations. Republicans don’t get goodies for allowing the government to run, as if it’s some kind of concession. Likewise, they aren’t privileged in their preferences for the Affordable Care Act. If the GOP wants to repeal or defund the law, it should build support, win elections, and pursue its goals through normal means. To do otherwise, to force legislative concessions through manufactured crisis, is to destabilize our system and damage the foundation of our democracy.

All of that is also true of the debt ceiling. Lifting the government’s borrowing authority isn’t a “win” for Obama, it’s a necessary step—the only way the White House can follow the law and pay for spending authorized by Congress.

If Boehner wants to negotiate, he needs to stand down and end the shutdown. It’s what the country wants, it’s what the Democratic Party wants, and it’s what a growing number of Republicans want.

But the congressional GOP is boxed in by its own rhetoric. It started this fight from a false premise—that legislative hostage taking is a routine part of lawmaking—and is still committed to the idea. “I don’t see any way he would get a debt ceiling passed in the House without some conditions,” said Louisiana Rep. John Fleming, in response to the prospect of debt ceiling negotiations. Likewise, a Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel, told the Journal that the speaker “has always said that the United States will not default on its debt—but if we’re going to raise the debt limit, we need to deal with the drivers of our debt and deficits.”

In Season 3 of The Wire, as the remnants of Avon Barksdale’s drug crew prepare for war against a rival gang, Barksdale lieutenant Slim Charles challenges the idea that they should back down or deescalate: “Fact is, we went to war, and now there ain’t no going back. I mean, shit, it’s what war is, you know? Once you in it, you in it. If it’s a lie, then we fight on that lie. But we gotta fight.”

Creator David Simon meant the line to be a reference to the quagmire of the Iraq War. But it works pretty well as a description of where House Republicans are right now.