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10
A government shutdown’s turned out to be a peculiar sort of beast.
 
First, before a shutdown, every politician – in both parties – declares the government shutting will be terrible. Awful. Armageddon. And every politician swears they want the government to stay open.
 
Then the government shuts down.
 
Next one group of politicians proposes to reopen the government one agency at a time – and passes bills to fund half a dozen agencies. The other group of politicians declares it wants every one of those agencies open too.
 
Then refuses to vote to open even one of them.
 
Next both groups of politicians agree to pay every furloughed government employee every penny of their back pay when the shutdown ends – which turns furloughs into vacations with pay but doesn’t open a single government office and costs millions.
 
Now, how on earth, you might wonder, would a Democrat be all for opening government – but then vote against opening half a dozen parts of government?
 
Or how on earth can a Republican vote for furloughing people and paying them not to work – instead of simply paying them to go on working?
 
It turns out the President, the Senate, and the House work like a three way firing squad. Not one of them can spend a penny the other two don’t agree to. Now, fortunately for the elderly, long ago another Congress agreed to pay Social Security benefits. But, legally and constitutionally, the President and the Senate can’t fund their heart’s desire (Obamacare) as long as the House says, No Way.
 
Which leaves the Democrats with three choices: Bribery. A swap. Or coercion.
 
The President ruled out a swap declaring, I won’t negotiate. Period.
 
Bribery’s out because any Republican Congressmen taking a bribe (say an earmark) to pass Obamacare wouldn’t have to worry about winning the General Election – because he’d never make it out of the primary.
 
Which leaves coercion and, say what you want about Obama, you have to admit for all his suaveness and soft-spoken words the President’s a warrior of the first order. He didn’t come from behind and whip Mitt Romney by being Caspar Milquetoast. Plus, he’s endowed with a true believer’s faith. And a riverboat gambler’s nerve.
 
So, when the Republican House offered him everything he wanted except Obamacare, he figured, To heck with it – I’ll double down and bet the pot to win it all.
 
And, just like in a poker game, that left the Republicans with two choices: Fold their cards or take a big gamble too.
 
The prospect of calling Obama (and betting  the house) made the Pachyderms  plenty nervous – a lot of them figured the safe move was time to walk away from the table. In the end they made their bet but, right away, so as not to offend Independent voters, they immediately set about reopening as much of the government as they could – everything from national monuments to cancer research.
 
That made life complex for President Obama and the Democrats. Who wanted voters mad at Republicans. To do that, the shutdown had to hurt. So reopening parts of government didn’t fit into their plans. So they refused to even fund cancer research.
 
So how does all this end? Does Obama blink? Or the Republicans?
 
Here the President has one big advantage. He’s never going to run for office again. He’s done. But in two years a lot of Republican Congressmen are going to be up for reelection.  And more than a few of them have a nervous eye peeled toward next November.
 

 

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09
So all the DHHS scandals are based on a report that was doctored to mislead legislators and taxpayers.  The $87,000 salaries for young campaign aides, lucrative contracts for political allies, eyebrow-raising sudden exits by top department officials and sweet severance payouts.
 
All that is based on the McCrory’s administration claim that it inherited a “broken” Medicaid system. Now that claim is exposed as a selective, slanted editing of the facts.
 
No wonder Secretary Vos doesn’t like requests for public information. No wonder one of the $87,000-a-year aides shepherded her away from pesky reporters after Tuesday’s brutal legislative hearing.
 
We know all this thanks to Rose Hoban, a smart, persistent reporter for North Carolina Health News. Renewed proof, by the way, that great journalism no longer comes only from traditional journalism.
 
The slated editing is worse than the usual Republican tendency to ignore facts, like evolution and global warming. This is leaving out facts. It is substituting factual information with made-up gobbledygook. It is deliberately misleading the public and their elected officials.
 
Hoban’s expose shows that, in doctoring a report on the state Medicaid program, “McCrory officials sat on information that would have depicted the state’s much-lauded Medicaid program in a better light.” They “eliminated detailed explanations.” They deleted the fact that “North Carolina’s administrative costs are lower than most states rather than 30 percent higher, as maintained by McCrory administration officials.”
 
Governor McCrory probably had enjoyed Obamacare and the federal government shutdown pushing DHHS scandals off the front page recently.
 
Now DHHS is back on the front burner. And the kitchen is getting hotter.

 

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08
What if Obamacare flops? What if the public has sticker shock? What if voters blame both sides for the shutdown?
 
From the White House down, Democrats seem awfully confident the shutdown-Obamacare standoff will end well for them.
 
Plus, they say, Americans will love Obamacare once they get to know it. But suppose all they know is that their insurance company raised their premiums? Will they blame the company, or Republicans governors and legislators, or Obama?
 
Democrats point to how this ended in 1995. But this is 2013. It’s Obama, Reid and Boehner, not Clinton, Dole and Gingrich. It’s Obamacare+Shutdown, not just the shutdown.
 
Republicans have their talking points down; Carter spelled them out: We’re reasonable folks. Let’s fund the programs we agree on. We’re ready to negotiate.
 
Do Obama and Reid look unreasonable, refusing to negotiate?
 
Here is what you can be sure about: America is far more bitterly divided today than 20 years ago. Republicans have poll-tested their messages, as I’m sure Democrats have. And, above all, people have an innate suspicion that government screws up whatever it touches.
 
I hope Democrats haven’t mis-underestimated the enemy, as George Bush would say, or misread the battlefield.

 

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04
Talk about strange things happening: Up in Washington two tribes of politicians have been pummeling each other night and day over who deserve the blame for shutting down the government.
 
Then, unexpectedly, one tribe changed directions.
 
First the House Republicans voted to fund national parks and monuments, then they voted to fund part of the Department of Veterans Affairs, then operations for the District of Columbia, then cancer research at the National Institute of Health.
 
Which all sounded reasonable.  
 
If the Montagues and Capulets in Washington couldn’t agree on funding the whole federal government – why not fund the parts they do agree on?
 
There was a brief glimmer of hope until the Chief of the Senate Democratic tribe declared, That’s a wacky idea.
 
Who’d have expected it?
 
One tribe says, ‘Let’s fund the Department of Veterans Affairs and cancer research – we all agree that’s good work – and the other tribe says, No way – that’s a crazy idea.
 
It’s sort of leaves you scratching your head.

 

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02
Look at the news this week, and you see that Republicans made a classic PR mistake: They stepped on their story.
 
For them, the best story would be problems, questions, concerns and online glitches with Obamacare. Instead, that story is competing with shutdown fallout: national monuments closed, WWII veterans turned away, school tours cancelled, military closings, air traffic problems and the like.
 
Obama, naturally, gets all the blame for Obamacare problems. Republicans get all the blame for shutdown problems.
 
Republicans will never win the argument that Obama, Harry Reid and the Democrats caused the shutdown. Every American knows that Democrats love government too much to shut it down. For decades, Republicans have driven home the message that Democrats love government way, way too much.
 
Republicans, everyone knows, hate government. They want it to go away. QED: They own the shutdown.
 
And they smothered their best story.

 

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01
The politicians, when you get down to the short rows, are the varmints who decided to hang  a ‘Not Open for Business’ sign on the federal government – but, in an odd way, it wasn’t the politicians who were pouring gas on the fire.
 
In the age of the twenty-four hour news cycle and roaring commentators from dawn to dusk the government shutdown turned out to be the perfect news story. The blondes on Fox News were having the time of their lives.
 
Last night was like watching the cable news version of the countdown to Armageddon with anchormen roaring the end of the world was coming in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 hour, and tersely reporting each new hope, explaining breathlessly, The House just met, the House just passed a bill, the Senate killed the bill, Obama said, Boehner said, Harry Reid said….on and on it went until midnight when Armageddon happened and I went to bed.
 
I woke this morning expecting to turn on the TV and hear: Horrible carnage. Aftermath of the end of the world.
 
Of course, none of the news channel pyrotechnics absolves the politicians; whether you believe the shutdown’s justified or pure folly, it’s proof our politics is broken beyond any hope of quick healing. But the twenty-four hour cable news cycle may not be the best thing that ever happened either.


 

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29
The shutdown showdown shows how much worse politics is today than in the 1990s. And it was bad then.
 
Back then, Newt Gingrich shut down the government because…well, nobody can remember why. Except he was mad that President Clinton made him sit in the back of Air Force One. And Newt wanted to show that he was the most powerful man in the world.
 
Well, Bill showed Newt a thing or two about politics. The Republicans backed down. Poor Bob Dole’s campaign for President never recovered. Clinton built a bridge to tomorrow and met Monica, and the rest is history.
 
But politics is worse today. And a long shutdown is more likely because the same consequences as last time are unlikely.
 
None of the Republican red-hots are afraid of losing their congressional seats, because they picked their voters. Their crowd will cheer when the government shuts down. Until the voters realize government does some things they like.
 
There’s no presidential election next year, like there was in 1995. This time, in fact, wanna-be’s like Ted Cruz think a shutdown is their ticket to the GOP nomination.
 
Also different: for all his strengths, President Obama is no Bill Clinton when it comes to hardball, insider politics.
 
Obama should just stand his ground. After all, Republicans already lost the Obamacare war. Congress passed it, the Supreme Court upheld it, Mitt Romney ran against it, and Obama won again. Tuesday, health care reform begins. In a couple of years, everybody will wonder what all the fuss was about.
 
And American politics will still look like trench warfare from World War I a century ago.

 

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27
It’s an old American saga: The President has a program he’s in love with but can’t muster the votes in Congress to fund it. So he doesn’t get his program.
 
That’s the way it’s been for over two centuries.
 
So why, now, isn’t the story coming out of Washington simply, “The President fails to win the votes he needs to fund Obamacare?” After all, when it comes to passing the budget, what’s unusual about Congress saying to the President what Congresses have said to every President, We’ll fund part of what you want – but not all.
 
Of course, no one expected President Obama to take being told ‘No’ lying down – and he didn’t. Stamping his foot he shot back, I want it all. I won’t take less, and he hit the road telling anyone who listen that the vile wicked nasty Republicans were about to shut down the whole federal government. The more he talked the madder he got. The Republicans were like children he said, adding,  Just because you don’t get your way you don’t have to threaten to blow the whole thing up.
 
But, in fairness, if the whole thing does blow up, who’s to blame? Congress which voted to give the President trillions to spend? Or the President who insisted, That’s not enough. I want more.

 

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26
Yesterday I asked why the three camps in Washington – the House Republican Bigwigs in Washington, the House Republican Conservatives in Washington, and President Obama –couldn’t sit down and make a list of the government departments they can agree to keep open and then fund them this week to avoid an absolute government shutdown.
 
Then, at their leisure, they could fight it out over funding the rest of the government – while the rest of us go happily on with our lives.
 
I expect the answer to that question may be as plain as the nose on your face: The two Republican camps in Congress, since they are less enamored of government, would be happy to fund parts of the government and let the rest lie fallow for a while. They might get a few less new jets (and a few less defense contracts for their districts) than they’d like, and there’d be a few unhappy farm State Republican Congressmen, but by and large they’d be pretty content.
 
The same is not true of the President.
 
He’s in a harder spot: If he does not get ObamaCare funded now, with the threat of a government shutdown hanging in the air, chances are he won’t get it at all. Not this year. And maybe not next year. And, even then, he’d have to win an election and put a majority of his allies in the House first.
 
Which of course is exactly the cure for gridlock our forefathers had in mind when they created our clunky, clanky, three headed lump of a government.
 
So the President has to use the threat of a government shutdown to force Congress to give him ObamaCare and the more complete and painful the shutdown appears to be, the more likely he is to hear Congress say, Uncle.
 
Of course, that still sounds like Obama faces an against-the-odds fight, but he has a pretty fair chance of winning for one reason: John Boehner.
 
The Speaker of the House is the master Washington Insider – but he’s no warrior. Political combat is not his cup of tea. And the minute he climbs into the ring with Obama, well, the President may be soft-spoken and polite – but there’s pure warrior blood flowing through his veins.
 

 

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26
Today I suspend Republican-bashing to recommend a provocative political analysis.
 
Titled “Will Disillusioned Millennials Bring an End to the Reagan-Clinton Era?,” it’s from a professor and Daily Beast contributor named Peter Beinart. It’s long, and it’s worth reading.
 
Here’s my best shot at a short recap:
 
For decades now, politics has been dominated by the children of Reagan and children of Clinton. But the Millennials – the generation born between 1980 and 2000 – are very different. And they are going to make American politics very different – maybe, very soon.
 
Beinart: “Millennials are entering adulthood in an America where government provides much less economic security. And their economic experience in this newly deregulated America has been horrendous….The Millennials are unlikely to play out their political conflicts between the yard lines Reagan and Clinton set out.”
 
They lean much farther to the left – cultural, economically and politically. They are secular and socially tolerant. And they can be decidedly anti-corporate.
 
Beinart: “If Millennials remain on the left, the consequences for American politics over the next two decades could be profound. In the 2008 presidential election, Millennials constituted one-fifth of America’s voters. In 2012, they were one-quarter. In 2016, according to predictions by political demographer Ruy Teixeira, they will be one-third. And they will go on constituting between one-third and two-fifths of America’s voters through at least 2028.”
 
The politician who may be most vulnerable to this generational cohort? Hillary Clinton. Specially, an anti-Wall Street candidate like Senator Elizabeth Warren could do to her what RFK and Gene McCarthy did to LBJ in 1968.
 
Forgot for a while DHHS scandals and federal government shutdowns. Ponder the coming Millennium.

 

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