In light of the potential government shutdown looming over budget negotiations and quietly being used to pressure Republicans into providing a legislative solution for Dreamers, its worth examining what Democrats had to say on the subject in the run-up to the last government shutdown in 2013.
Democrats, then in control of the White House and the Senate, castigated Republicans in harsh and personal terms in response to their refusing to approve a budget deal that did not defund Obamacare. Their criticisms centered around a rejection of the shutdown as a negotiating tool; they argued that it is an abdication of duty to allow the government to shutdown over ideological disagreements.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York perfectly captured the dramatic rhetoric employed by prominent Democrats to assign blame for the shut down to Republicans. Schumer lashed out at Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas for his adamant opposition to any budget deal that included funding for Obamacare during an impassioned speech on the Senate floor.
“He wants to hold the cancer patient hostage who won’t get NIH treatments if the government shuts down. He wants to throw the construction worker out of work, who’s doing a job that’s federally funded and won’t be funded if the gov shuts down,” Schumer said of Cruz. “He wants to tell the recipient of social security that they may not get their checks if there aren’t enough people at the centers to send those checks and make sure they get to the right place, because he wants to shut the government down.”
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California echoed her Democratic colleagues’ assessment of Republicans shutdown threat, calling it a “unthinkable tactic” and labeling those who employed it “legislative arsonists.”
Former President Barack Obama condemned Republicans’ tough negotiating tactics in decisive terms during a statement to the press that shortly preceded the October 2013 shutdown.
“One faction of one party in one House of Congress in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” Obama told reporters. “Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me.”
Obama compared the tactic to “extracting a ransom” in the service of “ideological demands,” in a statement made once the shutdown took effect.
“Right now, House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands like limiting a woman’s access to contraception or delaying the Affordable Care Act, all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party,” Obama said.
“You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job, for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway, or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like,” he added.
Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer joined Pelosi in invoking the imagery arson and vandal to describe the threat of government shutdown.
“Would you — if you didn’t like the redesign of your kitchen, would you burn the whole house down or would you try to make modifications to the kitchen? These people have come unhinged,” Wasserman Schultz told CNN.
Pfeiffer dismissed the idea that Republicans were negotiating in good faith and compared them to suicide bombers in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
“It’s not a negotiation if I show up at your house and say give me everything inside or I’m going to burn it down,” Pfeiffer said.
“So if they want to have a discussion about how we reduce our deficits and how we help the middle class, how we give them a better bargain, lift the debt ceiling. Take the full faith and credit of the United States off the table and lets have a discussion,” he added.
The arson and vandal analogy was popular at the time, Obama employed it on at least five separate occasions.
Pelosi and Schumer have both managed to avoid committing themselves to a shutdown unlike their more progressive colleagues, but they have both hinted a shutdown is on the table by insisting they would refuse to support any spending bill that does not include a legislative fix for Dreamers.
Should Congress fail to pass at least a short term stop-gap spending bill, the government will run out of money on Thursday, forcing essential government employees like border patrol agents and the military to work without pay.
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