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Rebutting Conventional Wisdom: Government Shutdown and the Battle to Stop Obamacare

Sep 29, 2013

Tomorrow, a partial government shutdown may occur if President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) continue to risk a government shutdown to protect Obamacare. The House has already passed two pieces of legislation to fund the government while stopping Obamacare. It is prideful, pompous, and shameful that the Left is willing to shutdown the government just to keep this failed law - a law opposed by 57 percent of Americans - afloat.

No conservative wants a government shutdown; we simply want to stop Obamacare. Liberals need to let the talking points go and face the harsh reality that Obamacare is destroying health care in America. If the government is shutdown temporarily because liberals remain in denial, conservatives will not be to blame.

And it's not just that we don't want them to take the blame; it's that a careful (rather than cursory) reading of history demonstrates they won't need to. Even if they do take slightly more blame than President Obama as indicated by current polling, it will likely have insignificant implications for them politically.

Conventional wisdom about the government shutdown that occurred during the winter of 1995 - 1996 says that Republicans took most of the blame and they suffered for it in subsequent elections. A recent article in The Guardian contests this notion.

First, polls today indicate that Republicans would take more blame for a shutdown than President Obama, but the divide is not nearly as great as it was in 1995 - 1996, when there was a 19 point divide. Today the divide is a mere 3 points.

The author strongly questions some of the conventional assumptions surrounding the 1995 - 1996 shutdown. He disagrees with the common assumption that the shutdown was strongly correlated to if not responsible for President Bill Clinton's reelection:

I would argue that this looming shutdown will offer nowhere such a clear win for Obama and the Democrats as it did for Clinton. The 1996 elections didn't differ at all from what you'd expect - given the state of the economy and the outcomes of congressional elections in presidential years when there is split government.

He also explains that, though one may think otherwise, the budget showdown and subsequent shutdown of 1995 - 1996 simply did not result in a steep decline in Congressional approval. Yes, Congressional Republican approval went down a point or two, but so did President Clinton's.

Then, in the months after the shutdown, both President Clinton and Congressional Republicans' approval rose.

The author's fundamental assertion is this: President Clinton won - and Republicans lost - the 1996 election because the economy was doing well, not because Republicans took more blame for the government shutdown:

There just isn't much sign that 1996 differed from what you'd expect, given the fundamentals. Clinton won the national vote by a little less than 9pt over Dole. One would think that if the shutdown had really hurt Republicans over the long term, then Clinton would have done far better than the economy would suggest. That simply didn't happen.
... In short, there's just no clear evidence that House Republicans suffered, even if they were largely blamed for the shutdown.
In fact, Senate Republicans actually picked up two seats in 1996.

Many in the media, along with "more seasoned" lawmakers, have used the 1996 shutdown and the potential of a partial government shutdown today to scare Republicans and to deter them from standing on conservative principle. But as this article suggests, it is unwise to let conventional wisdom guide our predictions for the forthcoming elections.

That being said, conservatives are concerned with policy, not politics. We know that Obamacare is harming individual citizens, the quality of healthcare in America, and the economy. And even the Left - though many continue to parrot President Obama who continues to delude himself about Obamacare's "quality, affordable health insurance" - acknowledges that Obamacare is bad policy and harmful to America.