What Is the Plan?

As we go careening off yet another fiscal cliff, it seems that House Republicans are still split on how to handle the crisis.

The House Freedom Caucus, by and large, seems willing to move forward with a temporary solution that will give them more time to extract meaningful cuts to the budget. It’s not a perfect plan, but it is a good plan. More importantly, it’s a plan at all.

But the holdouts, seemingly led by Rep. Matt Gaetz, seem more focused on obstructing the proceedings without an endgame other than “Screw Kevin McCarthy.” That sentiment may be fair, but the lack of a plan is not.

When conservatives forced a government shutdown during the Obama administration, there was a plan. In the long run, the party didn’t suffer electorally. Folks blame the shutdown on why Terry McAuliffe won the governor’s race in Virginia soon afterward, but neglect to mention that Ken Cuccinelli received virtually no support from major Republican groups in that race. They also neglect to mention that a last-minute robocall reminding voters of McAuliffe’s extreme views on abortion helped significantly close the gap in the final days of that election, but that’s a discussion for another day.

A government shutdown is not an automatic loss for Republicans, despite what Republican leaders say.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who seems increasingly isolated in all this, said earlier this month that “A shutdown would only give strength to the Democrats.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell claims it’s a “loser for Republicans politically.” But it’s not guaranteed to hurt. In fact, if they are able to extract meaningful cuts and reforms, then it’s a victory in the long run. But what we have right now is a pack of dogs chasing a mail truck with no idea what they would do if they caught it.

The Wall Street Journal points out that it has the potential to hurt Democrats, too.

But some pollsters warn that few winners would emerge from a prolonged funding lapse, which might deepen voters’ frustrations with dysfunction in Washington. That has the potential to deal a blow to politicians of all stripes, including Democrats and President Biden, who already faces low poll ratings over his stewardship of the economy.

“Everybody will get some blame,” said the Republican pollster David Winston. “Given people’s attitude about the direction of the country, this is a horrible environment to have a government shutdown in because it just reaffirms the sense that things aren’t working.”

A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that 29% of adults would blame Republicans in Congress for a shutdown. Fourteen percent would blame Democrats in Congress, 13% would blame Biden, 32% would blame everybody equally, and 12% weren’t sure whom they would blame.

As of right now, government agencies are warning federal workers to expect a work stoppage. It will suck for those employees if the House can either not get all 12 appropriations bills through their chamber and the Senate and the president’s desk before midnight Saturday night (or if they can’t get a continuing resolution passed).

I can certainly understand the feeling of those who think that maybe the government should just stop for a bit, but the Republicans need an endgame. Conservatives supporting a stopgap measure have one – buy some time to get the appropriations bills across the finish line and force the Democrats to come to the table. Force the negotiation there as opposed to actively encouraging Republican moderates to side with Democrats in fully funding the government because conservatives seemingly don’t have a plan.

But another part of the problem here, if we’re being honest, is leadership. Once again, the people in power are governing by crisis. House leadership waited until the 11th hour to start working on this and, as a result, the Republicans look disorganized and are divided on how to handle it. McCarthy’s slim majority means a handful of people who just don’t like him can derail his efforts to “manage” the crisis and he ends up looking even weaker than he did already. Even as the holdouts clearly have no strategy, it looks like McCarthy really didn’t think his through.

As of tomorrow night, we’re in a government shutdown, unless something changes. That is dependent on the House getting its act together and coming up with a plan everyone can agree on. I don’t hate the idea of a government shutdown, but I do hate the idea people barreling forward without a plan. Given the state of the country right now with Democrats in charge, I’d say we’ve all had enough of that already.

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