Wall Street Journal: The Democrat’s Shutdown Strategy

In this Wall Street Journal Kimberly Strassel examines how “Harry Reid spent years yelling about GOP “obstructionism”—but now he’s threatening to filibuster every spending bill to get what he wants:”

When 3-year-olds don’t get their way, they throw themselves on the floor. When Democratic spendthrifts don’t get their way, they throw themselves on the filibuster. (The floor comes later.)

Not so long ago, when Democrats still controlled Congress, they agreed to their own president’s call for a “sequester,” imposing modest caps on both domestic and defense spending. They have since decided that they regret this decision and would prefer to bust the caps with a spending blowout. But Congress is now controlled by Republicans.

So Democrats tried asking nicely. They tried applying pressure. In desperation, this week they asked for a budget summit, where both sides might drink beer and discuss their feelings about underfunded turtle crossings. Still the GOP won’t budge.

Thus the tantrum, in the form of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s vow to filibuster every single spending bill until he gets a lot more dollars—a gridlock scenario that could lead to another autumn government shutdown. President Obama has backed up the Nevadan, threatening to veto pretty much any spending bill that hits his desk.

The duo, which has spent many a year blaming Republicans for every government hiccup, is betting Democrats can again pin any crisis on the right. Republicans seem willing to take that bet—and they’re right to do so. Mr. Reid holds very few cards.

Democrats have already made the mistake of admitting their ploy. The White House was careful to threaten to veto the coming defense spending bill (which accommodates its higher spending requests) on the grounds that it contains “budget gimmicks.” (Since when do Democrats object to “budget gimmicks”?)

It took New York Sen. Chuck Schumer less than a day to blow up that phony excuse. Sitting down with the Washington Post, he explained that Democrats had finished weeks of closed-door meetings in which they developed, in the Post’s words, a “White House-backed plan to get Republicans to support more spending for domestic programs by blocking floor consideration of appropriations bills.”

This is precisely the GOP strategy of 2013—threatening a shutdown in an attempt to get changes to ObamaCare. That was an unmitigated disaster for Republicans, despite the fact that the party was demanding a change most Americans supported. Mr. Schumer & Co., by contrast, are threatening to shut down the government in the name of more money for the IRS, and in the face of polls that consistently show most Americans think Washington spending is out of control. The GOP won its Senate majority in no small part by promising fiscal responsibility, and it isn’t likely to be blamed for following through.

Then there’s the awkward reality that the first bill Democrats will have to filibuster deals with spending on troops. The National Republican Senatorial Committee is salivating over the prospect of highlighting Democrats who not only blocked money to fund soldiers their own president has put in harm’s way overseas, but who did so hoping to extract billions more for the EPA. The second bill Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will put forward, and that Democrats will have to block, involves money for veterans. Fun.

Republicans will meanwhile remind the country that the domestic spending levels Democrats now object to are those they voted for with the sequester, and voted for again just last year. They’ll also point out that Democrats remain happy to vote for spending bills that affect their own bottom line. The House in late May passed 357-67 its legislative-branch appropriations bill, which provides money for the offices of members of Congress. No fewer than 120 Democrats were good to go with that outlay.

Democrats are of course already working the media, and they will get some traction. A recent Politico story intoned that “If the GOP refuses to negotiate and a government shutdown occurs, the blame will likely fall to conservatives who control both chambers of Congress.”

Never mind that during the 2013 shutdown the press had no interest in blaming the party that controlled the Senate and the White House. What Republicans will have is the powerful optics of a Democratic Party refusing to act. Mr. Reid spent six years claiming Washington gridlock came entirely down to Republican “obstructionism.” Who is the obstructionist now?

What infuriates Democrats most about all this is that Republicans are following the rules. Under Democratic leadership, Congress made up spending as it went along, refusing to pass budgets, slipping everything into giant, untrackable omnibus bills each year. The GOP’s return to regular order and passage of a budget resolution has stripped Congress of that wiggle room. Even if Democrats block every appropriations bill, and Congress must turn to an omnibus, that omnibus’s spending will adhere to the GOP’s budget.

If Democrats really wanted to reprioritize spending, they’d offer amendments to the bills Mr. McConnell is about to bring up. But that would mean cooperating. And Democrats don’t want to prioritize; they want more.

On the day of the 2013 shutdown, Mr. Obama slammed Republicans for holding “the entire economy hostage over ideological demands.” It was a pretty powerful statement. Republicans ought to be looking forward to trying out similar words themselves.

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