How the government shutdown is a teachable moment for Republicans

teachablemoment

I’m not sure where the original quip was made, but the House Republican strategy of advancing “mini-CRs” was described last week as an attempt to fund whatever program Huffington Post had splashed across their front page at the time. The logic behind the quip, and to some substantive extent the actual GOP mindset, is that whatever deleterious effect the mainstream press is hammering Republicans on; pass a funding bill.

This may be another conservative Renault moment. In a tough political situation, the GOP is responding to the consequences of their actions by pretending they only just discovered people are hurting as a result. Sure, it’s an exercise in spinning the fact that you chose to immiserate large swaths of the American people (shut down the government) in an effort to…immiserate large swaths of the American people (repeal, defund, delay the ACA with no alternative). It also appears that the seemingly faux-umbrage about this immiseration includes not acknowledging sequestration-related votes that in some cases (i.e, NIH) is actually worse in the long run. Whether or not these mini-CRs work as effective counter-messaging is debatable, but given that we’re ‘here’ anyway let’s suss at least one implication for Republicans funding programs in this manner.

First, though, it’s important to remember that a government shutdown doesn’t effect all spending — just the discretionary portion. Programs in the budget that are mandatory, like much of the critical national security infrastructure, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Affordable Care Act are left untouched. Yet even some sections funded on the discretionary side are considered “essential,” and thus continue to operate (even if the employees working aren’t getting paid). Mike Konczal has noted as well that even those areas that aren’t considered essential are in fact pretty important.

So here’s the question: If defunding popular/helpful discretionary programs is incredibly unpopular and damaging to vulnerable people, what kind of reaction should Republicans expect for additional massive cuts in mandatory spending? Would they expect an outpouring of…shrugs? Yawns?

Here are some additional follow-up questions in asking “What should Republicans expect if…”;

…they passed $5 trillion in non-defense budget cuts over the next ten years

…they cut $4.6 billion in spending

…they repealed the Affordable Care Act (presumably after implementation)

…they block-granted Medicaid with $2.6 trillion in cuts and left 14-21 million low-income Americans without access to health care

…they cut food stamps (SNAP) by $135 billion and food assistance for some 8-9 million Americans

…they reduced spending by $300 billion in budget areas that fund SSI for the elderly and disabled, school lunch programs and childhood nutrition, the EITC and Child Tax credits

These are important questions considering the events of last week because House Republicans have actually voted for these spending changes. The 2014 version of Rep. Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget, overwhelmingly heralded by conservatives, includes all of these cuts according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. The list above doesn’t even touch the incredibly regressive nature of tax changes, Medicare reforms, or damage to the economy implicated by the Ryan plan.

So what is the answer? The reaction to such a large absence of funding would probably be something similar to what we’re seeing now, except a whole lot worse. In theory this should be a teachable moment for conservative politicians who support these mini-CRs. At some point the government will reopen, the debt limit will be raised, and another round of budgetary negotiations will begin. At that moment, if House Republicans were really interested in effective governance, they could look back to this period of unrest and realize that such draconian spending goals are politically unworkable.

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