The Seinfeld party flirts with another shutdown

    Seinfeld, the ’90s sitcom and ’10s syndication stalwart, featured a quartet of narcissistic knuckleheads who never matured. The credo of the show was “No hugging, no learning” – which nicely describes the congressional Republicans who are steering us toward another federal shutdown.

    With just 72 hours left on the clock, the Seinfeld party – having learned nothing from the ’13 shutdown that took $24 billion out of the economy and exposed its inability to govern – is back with the same knuckleheaded tactic. Thanks to the House GOP (natch), which gets its marching orders from the right-wing nativists, it’s highly possible that the Department of Homeland Security will not be funded beyond this Friday – unless Congress first agrees to revoke the Obama executive actions that shield millions of unauthorized immigrants, including kids, from deportation.

    You might be tempted to ask why the agency that’s entrusted with keeping us safe – an agency created by the Bush administration, with enthusiastic Republican support – is being held hostage by Republicans in the first place. Especially at a time of heightened terrorist threats. You also might be tempted to ask why the same Republicans who constantly rail about a porous Mexican border would willingly gin up a shutdown that would imperil video surveillance in the Rio Grande Valley.

    You might also be tempted to wonder why the Seinfeld party, after being roundly blamed for the ’13 government shutdown, would risk taking the political hit for another (albeit smaller) shutdown – thus demonstrating, to an already skeptical public, that its new majority is incapable of learning, much less governing.

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    But hey. For the average person who’s busy living a life, these ironies are too exhausting to ponder.

    Fortunately, a few Republicans are trying, at this eleventh hour, to pull the party back from its latest precipice. Senate leader Mitch McConnell, who took the reins last November and promised “no government shutdowns,” took a stand for sanity yesterday. Whether his move will break the impasse is an open question, given the fact that conservatives are hating on him already.

    McConnell conceded that the House GOP bill is DOA in his chamber; four times it has come up for a vote and four times it has gone down, because Senate Democrats refuse to indulge the nativist right-wingers. McConnell wants to end the hostage crisis. He said yesterday that there should be two bills – one that funds Homeland Security, no strings attached (in his words, “a clean DHS bill”); and a separate one that gives senators the chance to vote yay or nay on Obama’s immigration orders.

    Well. As you might imagine, The Base is already frothing about this. A reliably vocal group, the Senate Conservatives Fund, is tweeting about McConnell’s “surrender.” Twitter warriors are denouncing him as an “idiot” and “gutless coward.” The litmus-testers at Heritage Action for America are threatening to rain hellfire on any Republican lawmaker who votes yes to fund Homeland Security with no strings attached.

    McConnell is basically telling House Speaker Boehner that the Homeland Security hostage-taking tactic has failed. But, alas, Boehner is hostage to The Base. What are the odds that the House will cave to reality and simply agree to keep the lights on at Homeland Security? What are the odds that the House will quit insisting that Congress first agree to kick those protected immigrants out of the country?

    Tom Cole, an Oklahoma congressman and veteran strategist who hails from the GOP’s sane wing, warned Monday, “People demanding what can’t be done are making a political mistake.” He’s right, it can’t be done. The votes to hold DHS hostage are simply not there. But apparently the conservative ‘tude is that (a) shutting down Homeland Security wouldn’t be such a big deal, and (b) even if a shutdown happens, Republicans won’t get blamed.

    But the public is already jonesing to blame them. According to the latest CNN/ORC poll, 53 percent would fault the GOP if Homeland Security shuts down; only 30 percent would fault Obama. And if a shutdown lasted a few weeks, 67 percent said it would cause “major problems” or “crisis.” The same poll says that the public is evenly split on path-to-citizenship versus deportation, but, coupled with the other stats, the clear message is that it’s stupid to hold Homeland Security hostage.

    House conservatives and their activist allies are essentially saying, “Yeah, Repubicans got politically blamed for the ’13 government shutdown, but they bounced back anyway in the ’14 midterms. So even if they get blamed this time, they can bounce back again in ’16.” But the problem is, the ’14 voters (disproportionately older and whiter than the norm) were only 35 percent of the electorate. The ’16 voters, in a presidential year, will be roughly 55 percent of the electorate – with Hillary Clinton pulling Democrats off their sofas and assailing the GOP congressional majority for non-governance.

    As Republican Tom Cole said Monday, “I don’t think shutdowns and showdowns are the way to win the presidency in 2016.” The question is whether the Seinfeld party is capable of learning. Somehow, a la Kramer, I foresee another pratfall.


    Meanwhile, check your calendars. Tomorrow marks the start of the ’15 Conservative Political Action Conference, the annual Woodstock for wingers. Most of the GOP presidential candidates will be there to caress The Base, with Jeb Bush potentially giving us the highlight moment. Rather than deliver a speech, he has agreed to do a Friday Q & A with the people who are clearly not his kinda people. The mind reels:

    “Gov. Bush, I heard or read somewhere that you love illegals so much that you want to bus more of them across the border and enroll them in Common Core. Why is this true? And if I may follow up, how much do you love Bill O’Reilly?”


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.


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