In his 1981 inauguration speech President Ronald Reagan stated emphatically that “government is not the solution to our problem – government is the problem.” He claimed that government had grown beyond the consent of the governed and that he intended to “curb the size and influence of the Federal establishment.” Even though Reagan didn’t actually accomplish this objective, it became the mantra of the Republican Party for the next four decades.
The Republican administration of President George H. W. Bush that followed failed to curb big government too, although they paid lip service to its evils.
But during President Bill Clinton’s two terms in the 1990s, a paradigm shift in Republican orthodoxy occurred when the GOP took control of the U.S. House in 1995 and Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) became its Speaker. He was a vicious, no holds barred politician who counseled against compromise with Democrats and attacked the government at every opportunity. In order to force cuts in government spending, Gingrich engineered the longest government shutdown that had occurred until this year — 21 days – and he threatened to put the U.S. in default of its obligations by refusing to raise the debt limit.
Wherever I look for the origin of what the Republican Party has become over the past two decades, one name always pops out, Newt Gingrich. He wrote the playbook for the Tea Party Republicans that gained control of the House in 2011 and set the stage for the gridlock that occurred during the eight years of President Obama’s administration.
But it was another ruthless politician – Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – who actually carried out the obstruction of Obama’s agenda. As Minority Leader he weaponized the filibuster to the point that almost every piece of legislation required 60 votes to pass, even bipartisan bills. Like Gingrich, McConnell concluded that Republicans had nothing to gain by compromising with Democrats on anything Obama could claim as a win. In fact, in 2010 he said his number one objective was to make Obama a one-term president.
Over in the House, a group of radical right-wing conservatives were carrying out Reagan’s anti-government policies with a vengeance. Using their power of the purse, they slashed the budgets of the Internal Revenue Service and the Social Security Administration, among others, seriously degrading the service these agencies provide. Although they railed against Obama’s deficit spending, Republicans added to the government debt by greatly weakening the IRS’s ability to carry out audits that recovered billions from tax cheats.
In an effort to shrink the bureaucracy, the Republican Study Committee and the House Freedom Caucus spent endless legislative hours trying to defund or repeal Obamacare. The result was dysfunction and chaos, particularly related to funding the government. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — who was budget committee chairman at the time — even proposed eliminating two out of every three federal employees (except national security) through attrition.
The internal workings and procedures of Congress are not well understood by the public. All they knew was that nothing was getting done and they blamed both Republicans and Democrats. I believe the dysfunction caused by McConnell’s obstruction and Tea Party attacks on the federal government weakened the voter’s faith in our democratic processes [the establishment] and enabled Donald Trump to lie his way into the presidency.
Now the nation is facing a prolonged partial government shutdown – à la Gingrich — because Trump refused to sign a government funding deal unanimously passed by the Senate. And the longer it goes on, the more Trump seems to like it. He claims a wall is needed for border security but I think he’s trying to score an early victory against Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrat-controlled House. The conflict also deflects attention from the mounting scandal about his ties to Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.
Senate Republicans, including McConnell, are feeling some pressure to end the shutdown, but they’re keeping one eye on the sentiments of Trump’s base in their state. Trump’s “tribe” is his ace in the hole against defections by congressional Republicans and it seems to be working.
Many House Republicans like Freedom Caucus members Reps. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) are backing Trump to the hilt. They don’t care that much about the wall; they want to weaken the federal government, which they oppose with a passion.
The partial government shutdown is causing great hardship so I think a bipartisan group of lawmakers should propose the following to end it:
- The president would sign the funding legislation originally passed by the Senate in December and recently passed by the House, immediately reopening the government.
- An independent commission of experts would be appointed to determine within 90 days where a wall, physical barrier or a fence should be constructed along the border for better, cost-effective security.
- Funding for the commission’s proposal would receive a guaranteed up or down vote by both chambers, with no filibusters allowed in the Senate.
- The House Democrats would pass a bill providing a significant amount of additional funding for other types of border security, including additional border agents and surveillance equipment.
If this fight is about border security then those who are concerned about that issue should find this proposal satisfactory – and those who have another agenda or just want to cripple the government will be outed.
Let the chips fall where they might.