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February 26, 2011

Call Off the Shutdown . . . For Now

Thanks to some quick re-branding by congressional Republicans, there's a new normal in the budget fight: let's cut $2 billion per week. After years of out-of-control spending $2 billion doesn't sound like very much. But, as the old saying goes, a billion here, a billion there, pretty soon we're talking about everything Republicans wanted for the rest of the fiscal year.

Threats of a government shutdown next week had all but disappeared by late Friday as Democrats reacted favorably to a Republican plan that would keep agencies operating past Mar. 4 while making a first down payment toward a larger budget deal.


A first installment of $4 billion in savings would be part of the deal now and Republicans have said they will insist on $2 billion more in cuts for each additional week the talks continue past the new deadline. The novel approach is one devised by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), trying to keep pace with his large freshman class while avoiding the same sort of shutdown that so hurt Republicans in the 1990’s when they confronted then President Bill Clinton.

Senate Democrats bitterly resent Boehner’s approach, saying he is holding the government hostage, nibbling away with weekly ransom demands to placate his tea party supporters. But the speaker carefully confined his first demands to the least painful cuts, and in an amusing turnabout, Democrats rushed to take credit for an idea they had seemed ready to go to war over days before.

Whereas Democrats can piss and moan about $60+ billion in cuts as if it were an outrageously unreasonable sum of money, $2 billion per week sounds absolutely reasonable, even though it comes to the exact same amount when you multiply it over the rest of the fiscal year. Boehner's reaction to Reid's proposal to cut nothing: "You're telling me you think there is no excessive government spending at all." Of course, that's exactly what Reid thinks, he just can't say it out loud.

With the public in a spending cut kind of mood, $2 billion a week is an easy sell. All Boehner has to do is contrast it with the Spendulus to point out just how reasonable he's being. And Democrats have no choice but to go along with it or be seen as the cause of the Government Shutdown of 2011, the horrors of which the President himself has been talking up.

The Democrats thought they were maneuvering Republicans into the hot seat. Instead, they were making their own position harder to maintain. If a shutdown really is as awful as they were making it sound, then they have an even greater responsibility to see that it is avoided. Along comes Speaker Boehner with a reasonable offer and, as Poltico noted, the threats of shutdown disappeared.

And finally, this sets an excellent precedent going forward. If they approved $2 billion in cuts last week, why not another $2 billion this week? And next week? It gets harder to say, "well, the last $2 billion was reasonable, but this next $2 billion is just impossible." Democrats just lost the budget fight.

Nice job, Speaker.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:58 AM

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