Did Republicans learn their lesson from the government shutdown?
This could happen all over again in three months
The first government shutdown in 17 years is finally over. Shortly after midnight, President Barack Obama signed a bill that would reopen the government and extend the debt ceiling, ending more than two weeks of drama — thanks, in part, to the 87 House Republicans who voted with Democrats to pass it.
But don't expect to never hear the phrases "debt ceiling" or "government shutdown" again.
There were still 144 House Republicans who voted against ending the government shutdown. Even more worrying, the bill they were trying to stop only funds the government until Jan. 15 and only extends the Treasury's borrowing authority until Feb. 7, meaning Washington could be doing this all over again in three months.
"We've got to get out of the habit of governing by crisis," said Obama when the dust settled. It's not clear that every Republican got the message.
The Tea Party, instead of feeling chastened, claimed victory for having the courage to stand up to ObamaCare and government spending. And they don't seem like they are giving up the fight anytime soon.
"The battle lines remain the same," Rep. John Fleming (R-La.) told reporters. "If you think about it, we fought this thing to a stalemate." Those kind of statements shouldn't give hope to Democrats or moderate Republicans who are hoping to avoid this scenario in the future, wrote TIME's Zeke Miller:
[Tea Party Republicans] see the health care fight not as a teachable moment, but as a clarifying one. They fulfilled a campaign promise to their constituents by going to the mat against a law they cast in apocalyptic terms...This is the opposite of the lessons that many Republicans were hoping the GOP's fractious factions would learn from the episode. [TIME]
The movement's vocal leader, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), certainly learned a lesson: Rallying against ObamaCare is great for fundraising. The senator raised nearly $800,000 over the last quarter, almost double the amount from the quarter before.
But wait … isn't the Tea Party wing of the GOP becoming more unpopular? Yes, even among Republicans.
Polls also show that Republicans are in danger of losing seats in the House and are unlikely to gain seats in the Senate. None of that matters, however, unless the Tea Party Republicans feel like they will be punished for grinding the government to a halt.
Yes, voters might disapprove of the GOP as a whole. But, even if House Republicans lose a few seats in the next election, it's extremely unlikely that they would lose control of the House. That would put us in the exact situation for the next budget crisis: A Democratic president and Senate, and an embattled Republican-controlled House with lawmakers catering to their safely conservative districts.
That doesn't bode well for people tired of Washington "governing by crisis," argues Reuters' Felix Salmon:
We will have more sequesters, and more shutdowns, and more debt-ceiling fights, and eventually, in a statistical inevitability, we will fail to find some kind of way through the mess.
Remember that the sequester was initially put into place as a way to force the hand of any self-interested, logical group of politicians. They had to either come to an agreement — or face an outcome which was specifically designed to be as unpalatable to as many different interest groups as possible. And yet, despite the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, the politicians squabbled until it fell. [Reuters]
Democrats, who emerged from this fiasco looking like the adults in the room, are probably happy to watch a divided GOP drop precipitously in the polls. They didn't come out of the government shutdown smelling like roses, but, in a two-party system, they were the de facto winners of the last couple of weeks.
Instead, it's up to moderate Republicans to organize and make sure House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is representing them, not the Tea Party, if the country is going to avoid a never-ending string of budget crises.
"Mainstream conservatives can also be just as forceful and determined as the Cruz cult," wrote conservative Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin. "Fighting for the sake of fighting is not serving the constituents or the country or the conservative movement. Mainstream conservatives need to make this clear, and then go win some policy battles."