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The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

A Shutdown Showdown Where Everybody Loses



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From the midweek edition of the Morning Jolt:

Neither Party’s Shutdown Strategy Is Working as Well as They Think It Is

We on the right point out, correctly, that the federal government wastes an awful lot of money. We point this out for several reasons. We do it because we hate wasting money. We do it because we want a less expensive government, and to reduce the burden on taxpayers. We do it because it contradicts the Left’s messianic view of government and what it does and ought to do. And we do it because we feel money spent on the wasteful stuff could be better spent on genuine needs.

When the federal government shuts down, then yes, a lot of wasteful things are no longer funded.

We can wonder how different life will be with the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity no longer working. The 51 full-time employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of Departmental Operations & Coordination aren’t working, and we’ll wonder how uncoordinated those remaining HUD employees are.

We can roll our eyes when the Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Deputy Director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is kept on duty because that position is deemed “Necessary to protect the safety of human life or the protection of property,” as does the regional manager of the Detroit Satellite Office of the Patent and Trademark Office.

But the government spends a lot of money on things that are necessary, and when the government shuts down, some of those necessities are put on hold.

Like experimental treatments at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Each week that a shutdown lasts would force the agency’s research-only hospital to turn away an estimated 200 patients, 30 of them children, seeking to participate in studies of experimental treatments, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

Collins said the only exception he can make is for a child with a life-threatening illness. But patients already enrolled in studies under way at the NIH Clinical Center will continue to receive care.

In Atlanta, “at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, just one person — instead of eight — is tracking reports of food-borne pathogens, such as salmonella, E. coli and listeria.”

In the law-enforcement agencies of the Department of Justice, new employees do not begin training until the shutdown ends, in-progress training programs are suspended, and training of state and local officers is put on hold as well.

At the Pentagon, TDY travel in support of military operations in Afghanistan requires approval by senior officials.

And then there’s the stuff that doesn’t qualify as a necessity, but doesn’t quite fit as a unnecessary frivolity, either.

Commissaries on military bases.

The Statue of Liberty.

About 97 percent of NASA staffers.

The shutdown of the federal government is a great frustration and disappointment. This will look like a colossal mistake on the part of House Republicans if, sometime in the coming days, they relent and pass a clean Continuing Resolution that funds the implementation of Obamacare. They could have accepted that same lousy offer a week ago, and avoided the public-relations hit for the shutdown.

In a way, Harry Reid and Barack Obama made a pretty significant negotiating error by not offering the most minuscule of concessions at the eleventh hour. Boehner and company probably would have pounced on it, the shutdown would have been averted, and the vast majority of Obamacare’s implementation would have been funded.

Now that the shutdown has started, the public-relations hit is now priced-in to House Republicans’ position. Sure, the polling numbers for the GOP could get worse, but they’re probably not going to get much worse. There’s not that much left to lose. Right now, if they hold out and manage to wring a concession on congressional coverage under Obamacare, or a repeal of the tax on medical-device manufacturers, it would be seen as a major victory, after Obama has insisted, loudly and publicly, that he would not negotiate or accept the GOP’s terms. (Almost reminiscent of a red line in Syria, isn’t it?)

Obama and Reid correctly assess that Republicans will get more of the blame than they do. But “more of the blame” is not “all of the blame,” and as time goes by, you’ll start seeing more headlines like this one in the Los Angeles Times:

House Democrats reject GOP plan to reopen some parts of government

. . . and that will complicate the narrative of those mean, nasty, obstinate Republicans who refuse to compromise and those good, noble Democrats who just want to help sick people and keep the government running.

Increasingly, the public’s mood will turn to the easy “a pox on both your houses.” Sure, the Obama-Reid strategy will hurt the polling numbers for the House GOP — but they’re inflicting some damage upon themselves in the process.


Tags: Government Shutdown


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