The GOP’s Seinfeld Shutdown

The GOP's shutdown was about as pointless as a show about waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant.

Show About Nothing 2

During its nine year run on television, Seinfeld was often called a “show about nothing” in that the plot of many of the show’s episodes were supposedly about completely trivial matters of every day life, such as waiting around to get a table at at Chinese Restaurant, standing in line for a movie, or someone buying socks for their employer. After the show became a success, the writers even parodied the idea by having Jerry and George pitch the idea of a “show about nothing” to NBC that eventually got made into an unsuccessful pilot. As we sit here today just hours away from Congress finally taking up the kick the can down the road bill that we all knew was coming to resolve the manufactured crisis of the shutdown and its slightly scarier spinoff of the debt ceiling, it’s quite apparent that, as The Atlantic‘s Molly Ball points out, Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer had nothing on the Republican Party, who have put America through a shutdown showdown about nothing:

The GOP will actually get less out of the final deal being brokered than the party would have gotten had House conservatives never staged their revolt on Obamacare. In fact, the drama is likely to end with Republicans ceding policy concessions to Democrats.

Let’s review: Had the House passed the “clean” continuing resolution it was offered on September 30, the government would have remained open only until November 15, at the reduced funding levels determined by the “sequestration” cuts imposed by the 2011 debt-limit deal. Republicans still would have had the debt-ceiling deadline Thursday, plus another budget fight on the horizon a month later, as perceived points of leverage. (Democrats insist this leverage is illusory as the White House would refuse to negotiate, but to Republicans, that’s what these deadlines are: valuable bargaining chips.)

Instead, the House is poised to pass a measure that funds the government through January 15 and lifts the debt ceiling until February 7—taking the heat off Congress for months and eliminating three pressure points (the September 30 funding expiration, the October 17 debt-ceiling target, and the hypothetical November 15 funding expiration) in one go. The proposed deal negotiated by Senate leaders also would force the two houses to convene a budget committee, something Democrats have been demanding since the Senate passed a budget in March—and conservative Republicans have repeatedly blocked, for fear that any compromise negotiated between the two houses would mean selling out their principles.

(…)

Obamacare will not be repealed. Obamacare will not be defunded. Obamacare will not be delayed. The individual mandate will not be delayed. The medical-device tax will not be repealed. The health-insurance subsidies given to members of Congress and their staffs will not be taken away.

ABC’s Rick Klein makes a similar observation:

A government that nobody wanted to shut down seems poised to reopen after 16 days of personal hardship, disappointed tourists and vast amounts of wasted productivity. The United States was on the brink of defaulting on its debts because of simple legislative paralysis; the best that can be said of a higher debt limit is that this won’t happen, at least for now.

Beyond that, not a single law or government policy has changed in even a small way. If you’re looking for vast changes to the new Obama health care law, keep looking and, eventually, you’ll find that if you qualify for a health care subsidy, the government will now seek to verify your income.

(…)

This episode will be remembered for many reasons: for Sen. Ted Cruz’s stamina and stagecraft; for the rise of outside groups in directing traffic inside the Capitol; for shuttered monuments and idled federal workers; for Obama’s absence from negotiations of which he rejected the premise; for the big, perhaps inevitable clash between two starkly different visions of government.

It should also be remembered as a moment that Washington managed to seal itself off almost completely from the lives of the people sent to this city to represent them.

The lights are coming back on. But there’s little worth gazing on in Washington.

Ball and Klein are, of course, absolutely correct. The epic shutdown of December 1995 through January 1996, actually led to a landmark budget agreement between the Republican Congress and President Clinton that led, in part, to several years of “balanced” budgets. This shutdown, which will be the third longest since 1976 whether it ends tonight or tomorrow morning, will result in little more than a delay of the inevitable and a promise to spend the next two months talking about yet another “Grand Bargain” that only a fool would be optimistic about. Indeed, it’s hard not to see us facing this same problem again in January or February. On the whole, though, these sixteen days of shutdown and discussion about the debt ceiling have resulted in absolutely nothing productive getting done as far as American politics is concerned, and a whole lot of wasted time for every one.

If you’re going to pick a loser from this entire debacle, though, that title would have to go to the Republicans on Capitol Hill who set this entire machinery in motion.

For the Tea Party side of the party, this started out as an effort to defund the Affordable Care Act that nobody outside of their tight circle thought could possibly succeed. Indeed, for the most of the summer Republican Leadership in both the House and the Senate was insisting that the party was not going to go along with the idea of tying that law to the the budget. It was only because of pressure from the likes of Ted Cruz, and his rather open “behind the scenes” collusion with the Tea Party caucus in the House that Boehner and Company found themselves forced to engage in a strategy that they obviously had to know was going to fail. The result of all of that? Obamacare hasn’t been defunded or delayed, the Vitter Amendment to address the largely mythical “Congressional Exemption” is not part of the deal that will be voted on tonight, and even the hugely unpopular medical device tax remains intact for the moment. One could even argue that the Cruz-ites insistence on focusing all this attention on attacking the PPACA helped the Obama Administration by helping to divert attention from a nearly two-week old rollout that has, as even people on the left like Robert Gibbs and Ezra Klein admit, rather disastrous. But for the shutdown, the debt ceiling, and the GOP’s insistence tying both of them to a doomed crusade against a law they have already tried to repeal some 50 times since January 2011, the story for the past two weeks would have been about how badly the Obamacare rollout has gone. Instead, the story is about the shutdown, GOP intransigence, and the extent to which party leaders in the House lost control over their caucus.

Of course, at the same time that the GOP got absolutely nothing from this shutdown, they also have arguably done themselves damage that could be a significant problem going forward. Poll after poll leading up to the shutdown showed that Republicans were likely to get most of the blame if we did actually go past October 1st without a Continuing Resolution, and yet the party went forward with their strategy. After the shutdown occurred, polling confirmed the predictions that had been made by the September polls, and the GOP saw its approval ratings slip to astoundingly low levels.  As if to make things worse, some early polling is suggesting that the shutdown has hurt Republican candidates in the crucial Senate races that the party needs to win next year if it is going to have any chance of winning the Senate. It’s also quite apparent that the shutdown has hurt the Republican ticket in Virginia notwithstanding the fact that Gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli tried to distance himself from Washington Republicans. So, not only did the Republicans get absolutely nothing for their two week long political stunt, as every rational political observer had predicted, they may well have caused real political harm to their party’s chances at the polls.

Finally, this shutdown has, by some accounts, revived conflicts between the Tea Party faction of the GOP and more traditional conservatives and Republicans who have largely been cowered by the populists for the past several years. For most of the summer, leadership Republicans and even rock solid conservatives like Tom Coburn, warned the Cruzites that trying to defund Obamacare by tying it to the budget was a strategy that was destined to fail. In the final days before the shutdown, there were many reports, mostly quoting anonymous Congressmen or Senators and their aides, about growing frustration with  Cruz and his allies on and off Capitol Hill. As the shutdown dragged on, though, more and more people were going on the record with their criticism, both of the strategy itself and of Cruz and his supporters personally. Now, with the crisis apparently starting to wind down, there are rumors that the battle between these two factions may well continue into the future and that many “establishment” Republicans are determined not to let the Tea Party get the upper hand in candidate selection and primary fights this time around. The prospect for both open and behind the scenes warfare in the party seems to be quite high. If it happens, it will all be because of a shutdown that never should have happened to begin with.

It was, in other words,  four weeks of completely wasted time on the part of the GOP, and all they’ve really done is harm themselves politically and, potentially, set off a political battle inside their own ranks. If that’s not a shutdown about nothing, I don’t know what is.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. legion says:

    Well, they set a goal of accomplishing nothing from the moment Obama took office; it follows that they would engage in bigger and more flamboyant forms of ‘nothing’ as time goes by.

  2. Woody says:

    The two factions of the GOP only differ on tactics, not in goals. They’ll slag Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, who will be safely replaced by Republicans.

    Yes, the Republicans – the self-anointed Party of Personal Responsibility, who collectively demand every prominent African-American apologize for any misdeed perpetrated by an African-American, will slither away from any suggestion that their incumbents were in any way connected from this preposterously expensive boondoggle.

    Of course, they will call for slashing WIC funds to help cover this completely unforeseen cost inflicted by Demmycrats.

  3. Mark Ivey says:

    Boehner is drinking Scotch tonight i bet..

  4. mantis says:

    The GOP’s shutdown was about as pointless as a show about waiting for a table in a Chinese restaurant.

    Not true! One of them was funny.

  5. David M says:

    Inexplicable. The only thing the GOP had going for it during the shutdown was “Obama/Dems won’t negotiate”, even though it was BS. Given that the FY2014 budget is going to conference, I’m hopeful that the GOP will recognize a second shutdown won’t fly, especially with their main talking point gone.

  6. MikeSJ says:

    Ka-Ching.

    That’s what the shut-down accomplished. You’re making the mistake thinking this is about the Republican Party or mid-term elections or what not. It’s about Cruz and DeMint beefing up mailing lists and shaking donations out of the base.

    As for losing a possible Republican take over of the Senate and maybe even losing the House?

    Ted Cruz is already a senator and simply doesn’t give a crap about anyone else.

    Like I said…Ka-Ching. That’s all you need to know.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Indeed, it’s hard not to see us facing this same problem again in January or February.

    Which problem Doug? Stupid Republican tricks? (always) Suicidal Tea Partiers? (always) A stupid GOP willing to let suicidal Tea Partiers drag them over the cliff of a 2nd shutdown and debt limit hostage fiasco???? Not in this century.

    So you see? Something was accomplished.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    It’s only about nothing if you believe it was ever intended to be about something tangible.

    This was not about Obamacare. It was not about the budget. This was a temper tantrum by goobers and nitwits who cannot come to grips with the 21st century. It was always just an expression of race panic, cultural panic, fear and hatred.

    So this nonsense accomplished exactly what it was intended to do: make lots of angry noise on behalf of some sad losers. The fact that the other 75% of the country is sane and doesn’t get any of this is beside the point to the crazies. Crazies have their own logic, their own reality.

  9. Todd says:

    … promise to spend the next two months talking about yet another “Grand Bargain” that only a fool would be optimistic about.

    Call me a fool. I’m optimistic.

  10. rudderpedals says:

    @Mark Ivey: Whiskey to chase the hemlock aftertaste

  11. michael reynolds says:

    New poll shows Tea Party favorables dropping further. They are now 19 points underwater, 49% unfavorable to 30 favorable. In June that was 45% to 37%. They went from 8 points underwater to more than double that in just 4 months.

  12. anjin-san says:

    Boehner is drinking Scotch tonight i bet..

    In a just world it would be very, very cheap scotch…

  13. Mr. Replica says:

    The GOP as a whole suffered tremendously due to this temper tantrum.

    The “conservative” entertainment complex (tv/radio hosts, booksellers, and all the other fleecers) got exactly what they wanted.

    Ouroboros comes to mind.

  14. al-Ameda says:

    I believe it was about nothing but humiliation of the president, and forcing him to agree to rescind or defund ACA.

    I believe that we know this because they (that cadre of Republicans) were willing to take their budget demands stuff off the table and live with the on-going sequester if the president would capitulate on ACA. They calculated that the president was weak, that the public would come around to their position and demand that the president do what it takes to avoid default.

    Ugh ….

  15. stonetools says:

    What this has proved is that the tea party Republicans are spiteful a$$holes who are as dumb as they are mean and who are unfit to serve in Congress. I hope the voters will remember this and I expect the lesson will be driven home again in February.

    Obama has learned that you can’t negotiate with stupid, (even if you are inclined to) and that the best course sometimes is to “stand your ground” as the gun nuts say. When he stood his ground in this case, the Republicans, who were used to him starting with unilateral concessions, had no real alternative and ended up folding their hand. Keep calling their bluff, Mr. President.

    The liberal firebagger types have learned that Harry Reid is no milquetoast and that given a united caucus, he can be a “fighting sonuvabitch”, as Patton once called a favorite subordinate.

    The Democrats have learned that unity really works. The Democrats are famous for being not united and disciplined historically. This time they were. I guess being rolled repeatedly by Republicans taught them good.

  16. sick of this says:

    Actually, there is an inaccurate statement in your quote, re income verification.

    Under ObamaCare, you already do have to include your last years tax return – so there is already income verification, which Republican congressmen would have noticed if they were paying attention while the health insurance reform took place.

    For the Democrats to “allow” income verification is just a shiny trophy for the Republicans, about on a par with agreeing to defund the Obama death panels.

  17. Grumpy Realist says:

    @sick of this: Yes, I think that was in the original legislation, then one of the amendments pushed back the initial date of implementation.
    So a lot of fuss and fury resulting with the Dem “capitulation” to grant something they originally had asked for.

    Hee.

  18. Latino_in_Boston says:

    A shutdown about nothing, indeed. At least it only cost us 24 billion, what’s the harm in that, amIrite?

  19. Grumpy Realist says:

    P.S. I can’t think of a more spectacular own goal in history.

  20. C. Clavin says:

    The only real question left to answer…have Republicans finally hit bottom? Or do they have further to go???

  21. Todd says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The only real question left to answer…have Republicans finally hit bottom? Or do they have further to go???

    Republican, quite possibly at least near the bottom.

    Conservatives, maybe not even close yet … http://www.redstate.com/2013/10/16/advancing-ever-advancing/

  22. Nightrider says:

    If you’re going to pick a loser from this entire debacle, though, that title would have to go to the Republicans on Capitol Hill who set this entire machinery in motion.

    IF? Really, you’re going with “if”?

    Of course, if you mean actual losers and not political losers, the right pick is everyone.

  23. anjin-san says:

    I believe it was about nothing but humiliation of the president

    I’m inclined to agree. The GOP has been a single issue party for some time now – they want to damage Obama, by any means possible. They were willing to take the country to be brink of disaster to support that goal.

    Beyond that, they don’t really seem to have a vision, beyond “The fifties were great, and the 19th century was even greater” – of course they don’t include actual fifties tax rates in the fantasy. It’s just the hegemony of white males and a climate of conformity.

  24. swearyanthony says:

    @Todd: good to see EE focusing on the real enemy here: the judean people’s front

  25. An Interested Party says:

    @Todd: Wow, that post as well as the comments that followed it are quite a hoot…talk about trying to polish a turd…these people are completely delusional…and Doug has the sadz about “kicking the can down the road”…I’m curious to know what he thinks the alternative should be with this cast of characters in Washington…

  26. Woody says:

    @An Interested Party:

    Sad part is though Fox is designing the victory float (and designating the blameworthy goat), I share the belief that we’ll suffer through yet another sequel.

    Remember Haley Barbour’s autopsy of the GOP 2012 debacle? Yeah, the Tea Party doesn’t either.

  27. jukeboxgrad says:

    I can’t think of a more spectacular own goal in history.

    Stolen from a commenter at NR:

    At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted Cruz pulled off his mask and turned out to actually be Barack Obama.

  28. Tillman says:

    Just a year till midterms…

  29. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @C. Clavin: From my facebook wall: “Republicans create a fight only to screw us all over again and give up. This party is over with as a contrast to the democrat party. It is time for a 3rd conservative party. The only ones I don’t have a problem with are Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul. Gut the rest of the republican party.”

    Any more questions?

  30. dazedandconfused says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s only about nothing if you believe it was ever intended to be about something tangible.

    This was not about Obamacare. It was not about the budget. This was a temper tantrum by goobers and nitwits who cannot come to grips with the 21st century. It was always just an expression of race panic, cultural panic, fear and hatred.

    So this nonsense accomplished exactly what it was intended to do: make lots of angry noise on behalf of some sad losers. The fact that the other 75% of the country is sane and doesn’t get any of this is beside the point to the crazies. Crazies have their own logic, their own reality.

    Beg to differ, but I think they didn’t get what they wanted. They really thought the “nation” would rally around them. It’s that information bubble. It encompasses not only their sources of data, but also nearly everyone in their individual social circles. There are quite a few congress critters who spend the two nights of the three days a week they spend in Washington sleeping on their office couches. Their families almost never come to DC, and when they do, they seldom spend more than one night.

    Might be democracy doesn’t work when people don’t mind being perceived as insufferable assholes. Solution: Force them to work in close proximity of each other for at least 40 hours a week. That would force many of them to move their wives and kids in town, and they will see to it that Daddy isn’t a total jackass (if he has that ability) about 90% of the time.