Shutdown follies – and what Republicans should do

Congress - shutdownWhat if they threw a shutdown and nobody noticed?

Despite Obama’s best efforts and dire warnings of what would happen if Republicans didn’t give him what he wanted, 80% of Americans in the latest AP poll say they’ve felt no impact from the shutdown.

The problem Democrats have is that the shutdown only impacts a small part of the budget, since debt payments, Social Security and Medicare are all mandatory spending. That’s why Obama has been reduced to ruining family vacations by ordering the National Park Service to “close” access to otherwise open-air monuments.

Another problem is that Democrats are becoming the political equivalent of the “boy who cried wolf”. Remember the sequester hysteria less than a year ago? There was almost as much hype over it as Y2K, and yet we’re all still here.

So, after all of the dire predictions of political oblivion for Republicans if they didn’t cave in, where are we?

A higher percentage of people do say they blame the GOP for the shutdown, but not nearly as many as during the last shutdown in 1995. And the latest “generic ballot” poll from Rasmussen shows both Republicans and Democrats pulling 40% in terms of “who would you vote for” if an election were held today.

Not to be lost in the shuffle is the fact that Obama’s approval rating in the latest AP poll is down to a record low of 37%, and a majority disapprove of his performance on the budget, (you probably missed that, right?).

So yes, there’s blame to go around. No it’s not apocalyptic. And yes, it’s also hurting Democrats too – especially Obama.

2013 is nothing like 1995.

Almost twenty years ago the “Big 3” networks, The Washington Post and The New York Times had about twice the audience as they do today. All we had was Rush. Now there’s an entire constellation of conservative talk-radio hosts, along with Fox News, a thriving network of websites, social media and the Tea Party. It’s also worth pointing out that Clinton’s approval numbers stayed above 50% during the last fight, unlike Obama’s today.

In the grand scheme of things however, the government shutdown is really just a sideshow.

The big deal is the pending increase in the national debt limit, and the Democrats’ fight to keep the GOP from using it as a way to force spending cuts. Democrats have to stop this as a matter of long term strategy since these limits will be coming up pretty much annually for the rest of our lives, giving Republicans ongoing leverage over spending.

Obama has suggested that by not giving in to his demand for an unconditional debt increase, Republicans will cause Americans to “run out on our tab” at the world’s financial buffet. But, as Mark Steyn noted recently, we don’t run out on our tab, we just never pay it off – which is the reason we have to raise our debt limit about one trillion dollars every year.

The good news for Republicans is that what’s good for the country is also good for the GOP politically. Here’s a little unsolicited advice:

Keep the focus on Obama and his unwillingness to negotiate. Make him look unreasonable.

Take “default” off the table. Pass a short-term debt extension to move the focus back to the budget, Obamacare and the fight over the shutdown. This would preserve leverage to come back and take another bite out of spending later.

Focus on the failures of Obamacare. From escalating costs to jobs lost, it continues to be a ripe target. Point out that only government could spend over half a billion dollars building a website that doesn’t work. Even Wolf Blitzer is saying the administration should delay the individual mandate for a year in order to get its act together. Point out that if Obamacare is “the right thing to do”, it should also be right for members of Congress, the President and the bureaucracy.

Stick and move. It’s hard to hit a moving target, so keep passing small bills funding sympathetic pieces of government, and letting Democrats reject them. Again, make them look unreasonable.

Focus on the spending and the debt. Americans know government spends too much and a large majority actually oppose raising the debt limit. 53% want major spending cuts as part of any debt limit increase. Point out that we have increased our debt at twice the rate of growth in our economy over the last two years and have no credible plan to fix the problem.

Stick to conservative principles. The last thing Republicans need is a high profile fight where they cave in on principles at the end.

Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

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