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OP-ED | Why the Gov’t Shutdown Is Even Worse Than You Think (The Barbarians Won)

by | Oct 4, 2013 5:29am () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Congress, Election 2010, Election 2012, Election 2014, Opinion

I had the pleasure of attending this year’s Jefferson Jackson Bailey Dinner last week. There I heard Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s fine speech outlining many of the very good things he has done as governor. One line on another topic stuck with me, however, because I agreed with it and because it terrified me. The governor referred to Congressional Republicans as “barbarians” at the wall. The analogy is apt. Yet, the really scary thing to remember is that the historical Barbarians managed to take down the Roman Empire.

To my mind, these Congressional Republicans are almost as dangerous to our country as the Barbarians were to Rome. It isn’t hard to find examples of the terrible consequences of the government shutdown. Real people, real pain.

Even more damaging than these real world consequences, as terrible as they are, is what this is doing to the country’s ability to govern itself. If one House of Congress has the ability to shutdown the government because it doesn’t like a particular law and that becomes accepted practice, it will be impossible for anything to ever be settled. The government will be a few days away from a shutdown on a continual basis.

It is important to remember how we got here because understanding that path makes clear that the Republicans have been getting their way, and the trend likely will continue. It’s possible to go quite far back to see how we got here, but in the interest of brevity let’s start with the aftermath of the Republican takeover of the House in 2010.

The great debt ceiling fight of 2011 followed the election. No one with expertise in economics doubts that defaulting on the debt would be catastrophic. Republicans understood that and used the fear of default to extort spending cuts from President Obama.

In the end, the President had no choice but to accept budget cuts because if he refused, the economy would have crashed. Although he might have been able to blame the Republicans, the odds were good that he still would have taken a serious hit in his approval ratings and most likely would not have been re-elected.

The President also gave in on what he thought was a modest amount — a little less than $1 trillion over 10 years. And he assumed a bigger deal would be forthcoming. The 2011 deal assumed that a “Super Committee” made up of appointed members from both chambers and from both parties would negotiate a broader, long-lasting agreement. The “sequester” was supposed to lead to such a deal; its automatic cuts were supposed to be so bad that neither side could tolerate them and thus they would find a compromise.

Well, the Super Committee did not come close to a deal, and those cuts no one would want are now the law of the land and are included in the “clean” continuing resolution Democrats are pushing. Those cuts are wreaking havoc in science and other areas, and yet no deal is even whispered that would end the sequester.

The 2012 election, although terrible for Republicans in a lot of ways, still left them in basically the same position to take down the government as before. Roughly 80 percent of the House Republican caucus is immune to public pressure; their seats are so safe they can’t be defeated in a general election. Whatever “moderate” Republicans are left are so cowed that they couldn’t stop this shutdown. The last time the Republicans in Congress pulled a stunt like this just two years ago, they won. Why wouldn’t they try it again?

The fact is, sequestration and the debt fight that caused it got them government spending reductions they never could have dreamed of getting had the cuts passed through the normal budget process. The Barbarians may be losing elections and getting mocked by liberals and the television pundits, yet they are winning on policy.

And what say our local Republicans? They either woefully misunderstand the problem or are deliberately obfuscating.

Sen. John McKinney, for example, argues that a one-year delay in implementing Obamacare in exchange for keeping the government open is “extremely reasonable.” It might be possible to argue that delaying Obamacare for a year is reasonable. I don’t think it is, but I can see it. What is not reasonable is extracting a policy price for doing something that should be done. Even if you disagree with the law, that does not make shutting down the government or defaulting in order to stop it a reasonable response. That is not close to reasonable.

Likewise, former Sen. Dan Debicella, who is running for Congress in the 4th District, said something equally problematic. “I think people are sick of both parties and the inflexibility they are showing,” Debicella said.

If it is not clear to us by now that Democrats absolutely cannot be flexible when the issue is the fundamental ability of the government to function, then we are lost. If Connecticut were to send a Republican to Congress, we would need to send someone who at least “gets it” about what is really going on in Washington. The remarks of the other Republicans running for governor — Tom Foley, Mark Boughton, Toni Boucher — were no better.

In the meantime, all our state can do is sit and wait and hope the government re-opens. We also should take this moment to realize we have in front of us a clear lesson about the power of Republican “moderates” that we should remember next November.

The Journal Inquirer may pine for the return of moderate Republicans but before we let them represent us in Washington we must be convinced that these moderates would not empower the people shutting down the government.

Sadly, that is exactly what is happening now. As of this posting a majority of both Houses are on the record as wanting the shutdown to end. It should be impossible for that to be true and for the shutdown to continue — but it is. It shows us just how powerless the “moderates” are. If these bullying minority tactics work in the long-term, the Barbarians will overrun the citadel and the country will collapse as Rome did centuries ago.

Jason Paul of West Hartford is a partner in a campaign consulting company called What’s Next. He is also a student at the University of Connecticut Law School.

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(10) Archived Comments

posted by: joemanc | October 4, 2013  12:28pm

Cry me a river - the government has been shutdown 16 or 17 times before.
No mention that your president is on pace to double the national debt, similar to what Bush did.
No mention that Congress exempted itself from Obamacare either.
As for the Republicans shutting down the government over Obamacare, it’s dumb. Obamacare will fail anyways. We need free market healthcare to bring down the price of insurance, something that the Oklahoma Surgery Center is doing. Their 1st customers came from Canada!

posted by: JamesBronsdon | October 4, 2013  12:38pm

“. . . the Barbarians will overrun the citadel and the country will collapse as Rome did centuries ago.”  Oh, my! How dare these bullies represent their constituents.

posted by: Historian | October 4, 2013  1:02pm

History does not record the “barbarians” destroying Rome. They were just a symptom of the financial rot that accumulated to the point where the Roman
government could not raise enough cash to pay for all the goodies the hungry roman mob including the “barbarians” they let in. 
  The fact is that in comparison with the rest of the ancient world Rome was a paradise since the various emperors, in order to stay in power, bribed the populace with free entertainment, free food, enormous bath houses, temples, etc etc. 
  Rome literally went bankrupt. It was as simple as that.
  Want to guess who is repeating the same Exact pattern?

posted by: OutOfOutrage | October 4, 2013  4:39pm


Yesterday I spoke to the first person I’ve met who was affected by the shut down.  He likes to kayak in the Del water gap.  It was closed so he had to launch from a state park.  The Horror!  These are the times that try men’s souls. 

Truth is, if the Dems incorporated even a few of the GOP ideas into Obamacare (tort reform, nat’l market,etc.) the GOP would have something invested in this law and we would not be shut down right now.  In the words of Chris Dodd, “It’s never a good idea for one party to pass legislation to the complete exclusion of the other”.

So here we are, GOP is trying to get the same deal for the people that Obama gave to the corporations: a one year reprieve from this disaster.  Meanwhile, Obama and the Dems are trying to dress it up but you can’t spit shine a turd and eventually, shutdown or no shutdown, everyone is going to be knee deep in this thing.

posted by: ASTANVET | October 4, 2013  7:33pm

for the life of me i cannot figure out why CTNJ continues to allow this author to post OPED’s.  They are so incredibly partisan, with no hope of illuminating the truth of any sort.  It makes me fear for the future that young men like Jason are in ‘law school’ and will seek office.  He has no concept of individual liberty, or how to preserve it.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | October 4, 2013  8:04pm

But you’ve got to admire the brown-nosing of Malloy in the first two sentences. Smart move for a campaign consulting company. Blatant and cloying, but the recipients require the tribute.

posted by: wmwallace | October 4, 2013  11:27pm

We have moderate republicans in Connecticut and you see what happened in the state election last year. They lost. Time to stick to principles and elect people who work for the people not for the special interest.

posted by: Diogenese | October 5, 2013  8:46am

I think you need to rewind the clock a little more than to the GOP taking the house. Even before the 2010 election the Senate stopped passing budgets, resuming only this past spring. Since using the budget process to adopt the Affordable Care Act the Senate has confounded “regular order” for budget proceedings. I don’t believe this administration has ever sent a budget proposal to Congress on time. Their approach to the budget process is laughably unserious. The President recently lectured the House regarding the fact that it’s their job to pass a budget. Where was he when the Senate failed to pass one for four years? 

The Democrats used the budget process to short circuit parliamentary rules in order to pass the Affordable Care Act, they shouldn’t be surprised if it’s being used to change it.

Finally, what’s the difference between Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? While all of the previous presidents negotiated with their opponents, the current occupant of the White House prefers to say NO NEGOTIATIONS… and to prevent people from walking through open air memorials.

posted by: Stan Muzyk | October 5, 2013  5:10pm

Pres. Barack Obama is the culprit in our federal shutdown.  He forced ObamaCare down our throats and earns the credit for our federal shutdown over ObamaCare. Obama is the dictator of this ploy and blames Congress instead.  When one controls the news media—“he can easily be careless with the truth.”

posted by: dano860 | October 6, 2013  8:58am

Keep putting the takers in the wagon.
As far as the ‘shut-down’ they are spending more to keep people out of the places that require zero upkeep. The Federal Agents are being told to make life miserable for the public. The sad part is how many of these operations operate from hand to mouth. Talk about a dependent society!
Mr. Paul needs to get in touch with his uncle..Rand Paul, oh he isn’t related…maybe he should find out.

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