Toronto It’s hard for most of us way down here on the ground to understand how less than a dozen hard right Republican members of the House of Representatives are able to shut down an entire government with millions of workers and basically flip-off their counterparts in the US Senate and hundreds of their colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House itself. It’s hard to follow what it would take to make a deal or even whether a deal has value, as opposed to the vast majority just rolling over and crushing these bugs. The real organizing conundrum here is once again the recurring modern phenomena of tactics overwhelming any imaginable, viable strategy.
Let’s try to break this down to hard rock.
There’s no disagreement that there was a deal in place NOT to have a shutdown fiasco. It was made between President Biden and Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Here’s the key point from the Washington Post:
During those talks, Republicans agreed to suspend the debt limit — the amount of money the federal government can borrow to pay for previously approved spending — in exchange for limiting nondefense spending in 2024 to about $1.6 trillion. Accounting for inflation, that would be a cut from current spending levels.
So, if you’re still with me, we’re in this mess, because this small cabal wants to renege on the deal and lower the spending levels even more. The Speaker for his part is willing to renege on the deal in order to privilege this tactical move, regardless of the consequences for the rest of us. He shouldn’t be breaking his word, so he’s in this up to his neck as well. Senate Minority leader Mitch O’Connell is clear there’s a forward path in bipartisanship, reaching across to the large Democratic minority and getting their votes to keep the government open. McCarthy is more interested in keeping his prestigious position than the pain inflicted on federal employees and the American people, so he’s not attached to any principle that would compel compromise. The Democrats for their part have very little incentive to want to renegotiate a deal that they made in June only months later in September.
I’m not saying that the tactics of the conservative Congressional anarchists aren’t easy to understand, because they are. All of us, if we’re honest, have had fever dreams about shutting the whole place down to get our way, but most of us had to abandon those hopes by the time we were enrolled in elementary school. These anarchists argue that they are representing their home people, the national interests be damned, because they know best. This is part of what proves there is no real strategy here. This is only direct action. This is performative. A go-get-‘em, you show ‘em show for the meat eaters back home. There’s no pretense that there’s the prospect of a deal here, which means all sides are hoping to leverage the public, meaning all the rest of us paying the price for their hubris and dysfunction, to finally force one side or the other to stop the madness.
One Republican Senator might have said it best, when she said, 77% of the American people don’t want a shutdown, and “I’m one of them!”