Morning Bell: Harry Reid Chooses Shutdown Over Responsibility

Mike Brownfield /

You would think liberals in Congress have nothing better to do with their time. Amid a war in Libya, an effort to aid earthquake and tsunami-stricken Japan, a continuing war in Afghanistan, rising gas prices and endless unemployment, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and the Democratic leadership in the U.S. Senate are refusing to accept a modest agreement to fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year. And time is running short. What’s Senator Reid wrangling over? A mere $51 billion in additional budget cuts, which amounts to a few days of government deficit spending.

But Reid’s stonewalling isn’t just about dollars and cents, or saving federal funding for a Cowboy Poetry Festival. Reid and the Democrats in Congress are setting the groundwork for a partial government shutdown so they can attempt to lay the blame at the feet of the Tea Party and Republicans in Congress and gain politically. They’re simply putting electoral politics over the business of our nation.

As it stands today, Congress has until April 8 to reach an agreement on a long-term budget through the end of FY 2011, pass another short-term stopgap budget, or face a partial government shutdown. It might seem shocking that our representatives would cut it so close. But to understand how we got here, it’s important to know where we’ve been.

Last May, then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) announced that, for the first time since 1974, the House would not pass a budget resolution. Never in modern history had a Congress ignored this basic mandated responsibility. Rather than stem the tide of big government spending, liberals in Congress opted to burn through borrowed cash as they pleased with no end in sight. But with the rise of the Tea Party movement and the November elections, the American people voiced their opposition to the big spending ways. They wanted Congress to get control of the budget.

Enter the 112th Congress and H.R. 1, the House Republicans’ FY 2011 budget which cut spending by $61 billion. It passed the House some 39 days ago, and yet under Reid’s leadership, the Senate has done nothing to move that bill forward or offer any serious alternative, for that matter. In the meantime, the House has passed two stopgap spending measures to temporarily fund the government, waiting for Reid to get his chamber in order.

So what are the Senate Democrats really up to? One doesn’t need to read tea leaves, hire a psychic or consult a magic eight ball. Yesterday, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) gave America some insight into his party’s game plan. The Washington Examiner reports that on a conference call yesterday, Schumer, without realizing reporters were already listening, instructed his fellow Democratic senators to tell the reporters that the GOP is refusing to negotiate. According to the Examiner, Schumer “told the group to make sure they label the GOP spending cuts as ‘extreme.’” That is what “the caucus instructed [Schumer] to do last week.”

The spending cuts, though, are anything but extreme. As House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said yesterday, “Chuck Schumer did us a favor, he exposed their tactic. … He’s basically instructing his members to deem any spending cut unreasonable —  any spending cut … So clearly they are not serious.” The Senate Democrats’ inaction combined with their rhetoric means one thing: they want a government shutdown at all costs, and they want to blame it on Republicans. Their end goal: more spending and supposed political gain.

Yesterday, former Democrat National Committee (DNC) Chairman Howard Dean told the audience at a National Journal Insider’s Conference: “If I was head of DNC, I would be quietly rooting for it…I know who’s going to get blamed – we’ve been down this road before.” Dean continued: “From a partisan point of view, I think it would be the best thing in the world to have a shutdown.”

Reid’s inaction, Schumer’s political gamesmanship and Dean’s blunt honesty tell the whole story. This is not about putting America on a smart fiscal path, it’s about putting Democrats on a preferred political path. But it won’t work.

Reid and Democratic leadership in the Senate need to recognize that they have a job to do. As Majority Leader Cantor said: “We’ve got bigger things to deal with. Time is up here.” And with a $1.6 trillion deficit, cuts to non-defense discretionary spending are desperately needed. President Barack Obama, too, should show his face and weigh in on the stalemate. The president has been wrongly applauded for remaining silent by a complicit media; now is the time to show leadership. He can not continue to ‘vote present’ as he has throughout his career. And in anticipation of a partial shutdown, Congress should pass a Department of Defense appropriations bill to ensure that our military is fully funded.

Last November, the American people cast their vote for fiscal responsibility and a limited government that lives within its means. The many voices of the Tea Party are not entirely satisfied with a modest $61 billion in cuts. But they know that we need to make these substantive cuts and move on to the business of the next year’s budget, where more reform will be possible. The Tea Party is not the problem.

For almost two months, they have watched many of their elected representatives play politics, rather than play ball. Senator Reid, it’s time to do the right thing. Stop the political games and get to work so the government can keep fully operating and Congress can get on with the people’s business.

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