NRO’s eye on debt and deficits . . . by Kevin D. Williamson.

A Government Shutdown over Spending?


Do conservatives want a government shutdown over spending? Should we want a government shutdown over spending?

Grover Norquist wants one:

The head of the influential Americans for Tax Reform is encouraging the new House Republican majority to adopt a take-no-prisoners approach to federal spending — and if that leads to a 1995-style government shutdown, so be it.

Midterm voters “were voting to stop the Obama spendathon, and that’s what people were sent to Washington to do,” Norquist said in an interview for POLITICO’s “Taxing America” video series.

“That’s what all the freshmen are going to do. That’s what the fight’s going to be about,” he said of the party’s majority-makers, who are spoiling for a showdown with President Barack Obama. The president “will be less popular if — in the service of overspending and wasting people’s money — he closes the government down, as opposed to now, when he’s just wasting people’s money.”

But veterans of that 1995 fight — and in particular incoming House Speaker John Boehner — are ambivalent about Norquist’s shut-it-down push. They saw what a setback the shutdown turned out to be for the party, and Boehner in particular doesn’t sound eager for the same thing to happen to his Republican caucus.

Dick Morris also has predicted a shutdown. And this time, he says, Republicans will win the debate. Why? “Because you have me on your side.”

I like Dick Morris a lot. I think Dick Morris is a hoot. I also think Dick Morris predicted that Republicans would win the Senate this time around:

The Democrats will lose both the Senate and the House. They will lose more House seats in 2010 than the 54 they lost in 1994 and they will lose the Senate, possibly with some seats to spare.

I would not bet much of my own money on predictions made by Dick Morris.

Most conservatives have been hostile to the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan, and there are reasons to be cautious: We could end up with a big tax hike and no real spending cuts. On the other hand, we could end up with a tax hike that takes the form of significantly lower personal-income tax rates combined with the end of a bunch of deductions and special tax breaks in the code, which would be, in my view, preferable to the current system. I’d rather see a top rate of 28 percent with no deductions than a top rate of 35 percent with lots of deductions. Simplification of the tax code is a good thing. Flat is great, flatter is good.

The main problem with Simpson-Bowles is that it establishes too high a baseline for both revenue and spending. But it would substantially reduce the deficit, and a stronger conservative congressional caucus — if such a thing materializes in 2012 — would be much better positioned to reduce both taxes and spending if Republicans have already pushed forward with deficit reduction under a plan endorsed by the bipartisan chairmen of  President Obama’s deficit panel.

Simpson-Bowles goes to a vote on Friday. I expect it to go down in flames. Conservatives basically have a choice to go in the Simpson-Bowles direction, to go in the Grover Norquist/Dick Morris/scorched-earth direction, or to do nothing. Keep this in mind: If you think Simpson-Bowles doesn’t go far enough with spending cuts, you can always enact more cuts down the road. There’s nothing about Simpson-Bowles that forecloses further conservative reform. If you shut down the government and get your head handed to you at the next elections, you lose the opportunity to enact further reform. If you do nothing and coast, you get what we’ve been getting for the past ten years or more and invite the question: What is the point of having a Republican majority?

Nothing about our current fiscal situation is simple or obvious. But it seems to me that there’s a pretty persuasive case to be made that the Simpson-Bowles framework represents the best politically achievable course of actions for conservatives at the moment. If we can actually get a smaller deficit, a simplified tax code, and meaningful controls on spending, that’s a victory — not just a political victory, but a real victory.

– Kevin D. Williamson is deputy managing editor of National Review and author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, to be published in January.

Tags: Debt , Deficits , Despair , General Shenanigans , Politics , Predictions


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