House Republicans know the American people want to cut federal spending. Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama want to keep doing what they’ve been doing for the past two years. If there is no budget deal by the end of this week, Washington’s nonessential functions will shut down, at least temporarily.
Democrats have been warning for weeks that a shutdown will end Western civilization, cause Wall Street to collapse, and have millions of grandpas and grandmas heartlessly tossed to the curb. Obama himself put it as starkly as possible recently by claiming that in a shutdown, people don’t get their Social Security checks. They don’t get their veterans payments.
But as the Associated Press recently reported, the Social Security Administration would actually continue mailing benefit checks and processing new applications, and the Veterans Administration would continue making its payments. Most federal bureaucrats as well as the military would remain on the job, and even those who don’t work will be paid, likely with little if any delay. The government’s debt payments wouldn’t be missed, either. The most noticeable inconveniences for taxpayers would be the temporary closure of national museums and parks, and a longer wait for passport applications and tax refunds.
Voters understand this reality far better than most of Washington’s professional politicians.
A new Rasmussen survey found that 58 percent of likely voters favor a partial shutdown if that’s what it takes to get out the message to cut federal spending. Voters hold this view even though 48 percent of them think a shutdown would result in some economic harm. In other words, voters are prepared to reward fiscal discipline and punish irresponsible government spenders.
Washington is not on the brink in either the fiscal or political sense, so there is no need for further brinksmanship. Unlike the 1995 shutdowns, government deficits, unfunded liabilities for entitlements, and exploding national debt are what voters most care about today. The same struggle is seen in a growing list of state capitals where battles rage over government spending gone wild in order to fund lavish compensation and other benefits for unionized public employees.
It would be a mistake for Republicans to seek a shutdown as an end in itself, as they did 15 years ago. But an even bigger mistake would be for them to compromise pre-emptively on the spending issue out of fear of a shutdown.
With the public squarely on the side of spending cuts and fiscal discipline, House Republicans are in the position of strength in the current debate. Many vulnerable Democrats who face uncertain re-election prospects next year have much more to lose and much more reason to compromise.
Bottom line for House Speaker John Boehner and his GOP charges: Stay strong. The Force is with you.