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The Tea Party: Shutting Down Your Government Since 2011

October 14, 2013

On Sunday, Tea Party icons Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz appropriated a veteran's march to the World War II memorial in Washington to blame the Obama administration for services idled by the government shutdown. The march organizers were none too happy about it, explaining on their web site, "We feel disheartened that some would seek to hijack the narrative for political gain." As well they should. After all, Tea Party Republicans having been pushing for a government shutdown since 2011.

As you may recall, the new Republican House majority came to Washington in January 2011 determined to immediately slash $100 billion from the federal budget. But when their demands were not met, Tea Party favorites like Congressman turned Indiana Governor Mike Pence had a simple message for the faithful:

"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.'"

The Tea Party rank and file certainly agreed. As Robin Maas put it at a March 31 rally in Washington, "I'm not the slightest bit worried about a government shutdown."
But it wasn't just Tea Party enthusiasts show up at Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity rallies with their "Shut It Down" signs. By February 2011, former half-term Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was urging the same strategy. As Bloomberg reported:

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, weighing a presidential bid next year, said she opposes raising the U.S. debt ceiling and welcomes a government shutdown in the fight over federal spending.
Speaking to business executives and civic leaders in Woodbury, New York, Palin said her fellow Republicans shouldn't be deterred by Democratic "scare tactics" over a possible government shutdown.

(Two months later, Palin proudly declared her support for a first-ever default by the United States, announcing, "Hells no. I would not vote to increase that debt ceiling.")
In December 2010, Robert Reich correctly predicted Republicans would threaten a shutdown in 2011. As it turned out, Reich was only half right. "They'll try to strip the federal budget appropriation of money needed to put the [Obamacare individual] mandate into effect," Reich forecasted, adding, "My betting is Tea Party conservatives wouldn't mind a government shutdown over the healthcare mandate." As it turned out, that target for demolition became the Tea Party strategy only in 2013.
Nevertheless, the hardest of the Republican hard-liners were just as content to shutter the federal government in the spring of 2011 as they are now. "I want the $100 billion they promised us," Tea Bagger John Sanders said, "I say shut the government down. Let's go for it." As Robin Maas put it:

"I think we find out that there are many things government does that we really don't need to keep this country going."

Things, that is, like running national parks and our capital's war memorials. And that's just what happened when Republican leaders listened to three years of Tea Party chants of "Cut It or Shut It."


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

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