The great shutdown of 2013 finally ended last week, with Congress voting to raise the debt ceiling and prevent the federal government from defaulting on obligations to pay bills it had already incurred.
During the 16 days that the shutdown dragged on, we saw a fascinating role reversal in how the two major parties conducted themselves.
Democrats held firm and refused to vote for any legislation that would only reopen the government if the president agreed to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act.
Republicans initially demanded that Obamacare be killed as the price of avoiding default, but eventually they caved to the Democrats.
That’s very unusual. As we’ve seen in both Congress and the Georgia General Assembly, it’s typically the Republicans who maintain strict party discipline and vote in unison on major issues. Democrats, a more diverse bunch, are usually harder to keep in line on important votes.
The fracturing of the Republican bloc in Congress was reflected in how the members of Georgia’s delegation voted on the resolution to end the shutdown.
In the Senate, where it passed by an 81-18 margin, Sens. Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss were among the Republicans voting for passage.
When the measure went to the House, it passed 285-144 with the opposition votes cast entirely by Republicans. Those voting against it included all of Georgia’s GOP representatives: Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, Jack Kingston, Tom Graves, Doug Collins, Tom Price, Lynn Westmoreland, Rob Woodall and Austin Scott.
This was a situation where Chambliss and Isakson had to be the adults in a room full of angry, screaming toddlers. Both of the senators oppose Obamacare, but they also recognized that President Obama would never yield to demands that the health insurance program be defunded.
“The president’s made it pretty plain that (Obamacare is) non-negotiable,” Chambliss said before the final votes were taken. “In my opinion, that was not a very good strategy to start with and folks got backed into a corner on that — ‘By God, it’s got to be this!’ — and now I think folks are starting to realize, well, that wasn’t a very strong position to be in, because we didn’t have leverage on that.”
Rather than push the nation into a costly default that could wreck the financial markets and possibly cause another recession, the Georgia senators voted to raise the debt ceiling.
“Those who thought the shutdown was a good idea now know it’s not a very good idea. In fact, it’s a dumb idea,” Isakson observed.
Isakson may be the one who suffers the most, politically, for the vote he took to end the shutdown. Republican primary voters could punish him severely if he runs for another term in 2016 (Chambliss isn’t running again, so he had a free pass).
The person who did the most to enhance his standing among tea party conservatives was Graves, the congressman from Gordon County who fought as hard as anyone to force the shutdown.
It was Graves and his friend, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who introduced companion bills in July to require the defunding of Obamacare.
“We must seize the moment and permanently delay the entire law,” Graves said. “Congress can do this. We control the purse strings and can protect taxpayers from funding Obamacare.”
Graves kept pushing the argument that Republicans could kill the health care act if they just shut down the government long enough and kept threatening to put the country into default.
Some of my friends in the online media world bought into his argument and wrote articles that proclaimed Graves was building “momentum” for his bill to terminate the Affordable Care Act.
In the real world, it was obvious that Graves’ bill would go nowhere in a Senate with a Democratic majority — and that is what happened.
Senate Democrats refused to vote on Graves’ bill or any other measures to repeal Obamacare. As the shutdown progressed and Republican poll numbers crashed, the GOP leadership gave up and a deal was worked out to end the mess.
On this issue, the fun never ends. There will be another deadline in mid-January when Congress will again have the choice of funding the government or shutting it down. Chambliss and Isakson may again have to take on the roles of being the adults in the room.
Tom Crawford is editor of The Georgia Report, an Internet news service at gareport.com that reports on government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.