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Party of Lincoln Wages War for Government Shutdown

April 7, 2011

As the nation prepares to mark next week's 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the Party of Lincoln stands on the brink of shutting down the federal government. But whether it comes this week over the GOP's budgetary blackmail of Planned Parenthood and the EPA or next month over the Republicans' newly discovered antipathy to raising the debt ceiling, Americans will know which party was responsible. After all, now as 150 years ago, "one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive."
In his Second Inaugural on March 4, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln reflected on the beginning of the Civil War then nearing its end. Recalling that "insurgent agents" in Washington sought "to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation," Lincoln recalled for posterity that:

"Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

Substitute "government shutdown" for "war", reverse the roles of the parties and Lincoln's is an apt description for the looming shutdown of the federal government.
For months, the Republican Party prodded by its Tea Party zealots has made no secret of its intention to shutter the federal government in order to extract draconian budget cuts. Having aided and abetted Ronald Reagan in tripling the national debt and George W. Bush in doubling it again, only with the arrival of a Democrat in the White House did Republicans attack their own peculiar institution of deficit spending.
In early November, Alabama Rep. Spencer Bachus claimed President Obama "will probably try to force us to shut government down and we are going to have to be brave this time." Two days later, Congressman-elect Tim Walberg (R-MI) similarly threatened that if Obama didn't kowtow to Republican demands "he will shut government down." Two weeks later, Texas Republican Louie Gohmert warned:

"Okay, government is going to have to shut down until you runaway-spending people get it under control. And if you can't get it under control, then we just stop government until you realize, you know, yes we can."

Whether regarding near-term spending cuts or the necessity of raising the debt ceiling, the Republican rank-and-file and leadership alike have been calling to "shut it down." By mid-November, press coverage of the "poison vote" facing the wave of GOP freshmen in Congress was dominating the news. But while incoming House Majority leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) refused to take a government shutdown and default on its debt off the table, soon-to-be Speaker John Boehner pleaded for moderation.

"I've made it pretty clear to them that as we get into next year, it's pretty clear that Congress is going to have to deal with this," Mr. Boehner, who is slated to become House speaker in January, told reporters.
"We're going to have to deal with it as adults," he said, in what apparently are his most explicit comments to date. "Whether we like it or not, the federal government has obligations and we have obligations on our part."

Alas, John Boehner's moderation was short-lived.

A month later, Boehner told Leslie Stahl of CBS 60 Minutes, "I reject the word" compromise. In January, when his Tea Party caucus rebelled at Boehner's broken promise to save taxpayers "$100 billion almost immediately," the Speaker reversed course on his new $35 billion target. Ultimately, House Republicans pushed the figure to $61 billion. And while Boehner over the last two weeks signaled to Senate Democrats and the White House that he could accept $33 billion and then $40 billion in spending cuts, Tea Party demands to defund Planned Parenthood, prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases have forced Speaker Boehner to choose between political posturing and the national interest. Refusing to accept any compromise that can't be passed by House Republicans alone, Boehner made his choice. As he told ABC Thursday:

"Listen, there's no daylight between the tea party and me."

That goes ditto for his former number three man, Mike Pence. As Pence explained in a revealing moment to Fox News on Wednesday:

"Well, I don't know if we're checkmating. But we're trying -- we're trying to score a victory for the Republican people, for -- for the American -- for the Republican people -- trying to score a victory for the American people, not for the Republican Party. That victory is going to come in stages here."

And at a Tea Party rally at the Capitol, Pence's rebel yell won cheers from the Tea Party crowd:

"It's time to take a stand. We need to say to liberals, 'This far and no further.' To borrow a line from another Harry, we've got to say, 'The debt stops here.' And if liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and force a government shutdown instead of accepting a modest down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, 'Shut it down.'"

By all indications, they will. If not this week, then next month when the day of reckoning over increasing the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling arrives.
While the specter of a global financial cataclysm caused by the default of the United States caused most sentient mammals to denounce that prospect as "insanity" (Obama economic adviser Austan Goolsbee), resulting in "severe harm" (McCain economic adviser Mark Zandi), "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world" (Senator Lindsey Graham), "financial disaster" (House Speaker John Boehner), Mitch McConnell and his Senate Republican colleagues are determined to continue with the game of chicken. Apparently, American fiscal suicide is a small price to pay for political power.
As this budget clash comes down to the wire, the words of Lincoln's Second Inaugural are eerily appropriate. Slavery then and Republican political power now was an interest "localized in the southern part" of the country. Of that "peculiar and powerful interest," Lincoln explained, "All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war." And as he put it 150 years ago in his First Inaugural:

In your hands, my dissatisfied fellow-countrymen, and not in mine, is the momentous issue of civil war. The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors. You have no oath registered in heaven to destroy the Government, while I shall have the most solemn one to "preserve, protect, and defend it."

Sadly, in public and behind closed doors alike the response of today's Party of Lincoln to his plea to preserve the government is a simple one.
Shut it down.


About

Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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