We know that the result of the 2010 elections will be gridlock, because the federal government is just wired that way. Even if Democrats manage to by some miracle keep the House and Senate, they’ll lose some seats in the upper chamber, enough to enable a successful filibuster of any initiative worth passing. And I don’t see a Senate Democratic caucus under siege doing a whole lot to change that. And if Republicans take even one chamber of Congress, they will control some level of the appropriations process, and the budget resolution that funds the government. The resulting gridlock could easily lead to a government shutdown. The Republicans are actually salivating at the prospect of this, and have learned the lesson from the 1995 shutdown controversy that they simply lacked the will to carry forward their demands. Here’s Spencer Bachus, who would chair the House Financial Services Committee if Republicans win, framing it as Obama “forcing” Republicans to shut down the government:
BACHUS: I would think when we send the spending bills to the president he will veto them, and then the hard vote will be when he sends them back and we will be faced with another situation where he will probably try to force us to shut government down and we are going to have to be brave this time.
HOST: So you’re predicting a government shutdown?
BACHUS: Well I’m predicting that he will veto our spending bills because he’ll say it doesn’t spend enough. And at that point, if he wants to shutdown the government, we’re not going to cave to him and we’re not going to increase taxes. And we’re not going to lose our resolve to cut spending. And it’s going to take bravery [...]
HOST: But are you worried about overplaying your hand here if you’re talking government shutdown? I mean the last time Republicans did that back in ’94 and ’95, that didn’t work out too well for then-Speaker Newt Gingrich.
BACHUS: Well, we wouldn’t be shutting it down. We would be cutting out the excessive spending. And if the president wanted to shut the government down, but we wouldn’t want to shut the government down.
This is of course nonsense, but given the ability of Democrats to counter conservative narratives, I’d say it’ll take hold pretty quickly.
Michael Steele said over the weekend that Republicans “wouldn’t compromise” on raising the debt ceiling, which could potentially not only shut down the government in the absence of a continuing resolution to fund it, but in a worst-case scenario lead to a default. Some analysts claim that the government could roll over debt and engage in enough creative accounting to hold out for a while. But I’ve seen this play out in California – it only lasts for so long before you have to send out IOUs or something. And the creditors aren’t sovereign wealth funds, but contractors with less influence. I side with catastrophe.
There’s also the possible government shutdown over defunding the Affordable Care Act. In short, there are a number of different ways that the GOP can force a shutdown this year. And I haven’t seen the word compromise cross their lips in a while; that would be at the discretion of the President.
Even if these worst-case scenarios are avoided, and I really don’t think they will be, the resultant gridlock will not end well for America. We’re facing crises on multiple fronts, with slow growth, high unemployment and record foreclosures, a warming planet, a broken immigration system, underfunded federal agencies supervising worker and food safety, etc., etc. A failure to act on any of these challenges may sound good to status quo conservatives and business leaders wary of “uncertainty,” but the facts are that divided government is worse for the stock market, worse for business profits, and arguably worse for the economy as a whole. That will be particularly true over the next two years.
But given the expectations, a mere failure to meet the challenges of the 21st century might be the best of all possible worlds.