Two things I recommend you check out from Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Bo Cutter, who was Director of the National Economic Council and Deputy Assistant to the President from 1992-1996 during the Clinton Presidency and the last government shutdown. The first is a recent post for New Deal 2.0, Let the Government Shut Down, outlining six things to keep in mind if the government does shut down. Two in particular:
Fourth, if a compromise is reached the Tea Party will think they won that battle. There would be no good reason not to push the limit again in a debt ceiling fight. That fight involves very real dangers; the administration would be forced to err on the cautious side and House Republicans simply do not know enough about the issue to understand how recklessly they are behaving. The way to win the debt ceiling battle is to beat the Republican Congress like a rug in the current fight. The time to win the debt ceiling battle is right now.
Fifth, during a shutdown an administration can speak every day with one coherent message. The House and Senate Republicans will instantaneously fracture into a couple hundred voices. Your average member of Congress really does not want to explain to her constituents why the Washington Monument and the Space Museum are closed during their vacation.
The other post to check out is a long interview with Cutter about what a government shutdown actually means. Since I only had a vague idea of what it involves, I learned a lot from someone who had to figure out how to deal with it in real time during the Clinton years. Two questions in particular:
Bryce Covert: Are shutdowns just political theater?
Bo Cutter: The shutdowns are real. People think that this is all a subterfuge sometimes. And particularly I always thought that the Republican Congress basically thought none of this was real and therefore they could have it both ways. They could politically posture by saying that by god they were going to shut the government down and they were rough and tough and all of that, but in their hearts they kind of knew nothing would happen. So some of them were the most surprised people of all when actual things actually happened and when their constituents suddenly didn’t get services because the government was shut down. It is quite real.
When we were there during the shut down, President Clinton had done a superb job of positioning before the fact, of saying to people, “I’m not going to give in to outrageous requests just because people think that I’m unwilling to go through this. But I will warn you in advance that it has effects and you won’t like them. And this is not the way adults should negotiate.” So by midway through the shutdown, the polling had shifted to being very, very substantially in the favor of Clinton, and I think the same thing would happen here.
Bryce Covert: What does the average American feel when the government shuts down?
Bo Cutter: First of all, there’s the disappearance of all of the things that are really visible like forests and parks. I don’t mean the forests disappear, obviously. But people who’d planned trips are the ones who get hit first. The TSA will be there, but that proverbial family that is in Washington really can’t go to the Air and Space Museum and they don’t believe it. They think this is crazy, why would anybody close down the Air and Space Museum? So they yell and scream, and they’re right, they should be mad.
The second thing you notice is a real slowdown in everything. There’s no place to call and find out what’s happening to a particular grant. If you’re Caterpillar and you sell heavy earth moving equipment and you had a contract in competition with others being considered by the Department of Transportation, your contract isn’t going to get looked at. So the people whose jobs depended on that work lose their jobs.
Check out the whole thing.