Why Obama Wants a Shutdown

It's a great distraction from his serial bungling.

Commenting on the October 1 partial federal-government shutdown, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said, “Democratic leaders in Congress finally have their prize – a government shutdown that no one seems to want but them”. But if you listen to Harry Reid, it is McConnell’s party, particularly “Speaker Boehner and his band of Tea Party radicals”, who “have done the unthinkable. They’ve shut down the federal government.”

Who did it, and why? The answer is quite plain.

If you look strictly at the facts, it was the U.S. Senate’s rejection of the continuing resolution passed by the House of Representatives with its one-year delay of Obamacare’s individual mandate that resulted in the shutdown. But if you are watching or reading or listening to the mainstream media, including ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, it is, unsurprisingly, the Republicans who did it.

It is the “why”, of course, that is much more interesting.

Senator Reid and President Obama are quite aware that Obamacare is wildly unpopular, even with large labor unions, the traditional bulwark of the Democratic Party.

Each day brings more vignettes of regular middle-class folks whose health care premiums are increasing substantially and whose deductibles are increasing.

But the truth is that President Obama’s oft-repeated promise while initially selling Obamacare, that if you like your health care and your doctor, you can keep them, looks more bogus by the day as the public realizes that he’s peddling what amounts to economic quackery.

Tuesday’s opening of the health care exchanges brought only more discomforting news for the administration: many internet-based exchanges melted down as folks with no insurance or preexisting conditions tried to log on and sign up for the highly subsidized insurance policies. Moreover, President Obama’s approval ratings have been in steady decline, as he has botched one foreign-policy “crisis” after another, from Benghazi to Egypt to Syria. His serial bungling isn’t going unnoticed or unremarked.

Which is why el presidente needs to change the subject. Otherwise, the 2014 mid-term elections, when Obama is not on the ballot, could be worse than 2010 for the Democrats. The traditional “blame the Republicans” for a government shutdown is convenient cover for Obama’s failing policies, foreign and domestic, and a surefire way to paint Republicans as mean-spirited as midterm elections approach.

In private, Messrs. Obama and Reid certainly long for the longest shutdown possible. The longer the partial shutdown lingers, the better politically for Democrats. They are following what amounts to a boo-hoo strategy. It is predicated on the notion that a protracted shutdown will provide more opportunity for the Obama-compliant press to photograph Girl Scouts denied entry to national parks or to report on the forced cancellation of school trips to the Smithsonian. From Mr. Obama’s point of view, it’s too bad that it’s not yet Easter, so he could blame Republicans for cancelling yet another White House Easter Egg Roll, as he did with the sequester. For Obama blaming Republicans for bad things isn’t a proclivity; it’s become an ingrained reflex. Like the sulking small child who can’t imagine that his own behavior, not the strict teacher, is at fault for his poor performance.

Speaking of the sequester, the end-of-the-world scenario the President and his cadre promoted as a sure thing never did materialize. They overplayed their hand, and it is quite possible that Obama and Reid are doing it again. You see, the Republicans, at the eleventh hour, actually at one past midnight on October 1, finally careened into the one strategy that could payoff for them politically and cause the Dems to wish they had simply agreed to delay the individual mandate by one year and avoid the shutdown. That strategy is simple: propose individual emergency spending bills for popular programs, such as for veterans and for national parks. Emergency bills require two-thirds to pass, so Democratic votes would be needed. The beauty of that is forcing Democrats in the House to vote for such measures or be branded as being against veterans or against national parks and the like. If the Democrats do not go along, they will have problems in close 2014 House races. If they do go along, the Democrats in the Senate will have to take up such bills and will face the same dilemma. For once, the Republicans will not necessarily shoulder the lion’s share of the shutdown blame.

But no matter which party “wins” the shutdown sweepstakes, the American public is a sure loser. And adding insult to injury, Congress is likely to include government worker compensation for the period of the shutdown, as Congress has done with previous shutdowns. So, little money actually will be saved, despite no “work” having been done. But then again, no “work” by bureaucrats, resulting in fewer job-killing regulations, is a good thing.

Jay Zawatsky is the CEO of havePower, LLC (a natural gas infrastructure developer) and a professor of business, economics, and finance at Montgomery College in Rockville, Maryland.

Image: WikimediaCommons/MazeNL77. CC BY-SA 3.0.