Thursday, November 23, 2017
Opinion

Column: Shutdown as a matter of pride

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Want to know why the shutdown — and the coming debt ceiling fight — will be so difficult to resolve? Just ask Marlin Stutzman, a conservative congressman from Indiana.

"We're not going to be disrespected," he told the Washington Examiner's David Drucker. "We have to get something out of this. And I don't know what that even is."

Stutzman is right.

The fight over the shutdown has become unmoored from any particular policy demands the GOP believes it can secure. It's become an issue of pride and politics. At this point, Republicans simply need something so they can tell themselves, and their base, that they didn't lose. They don't know what that something is, exactly. But it needs to be something.

By the same token, the Democrats literally can't give them anything without losing. Not until the shutdown ends, anyway. And President Barack Obama has added that the Democrats can't give them anything until the debt ceiling is raised. "Until we get (the shutdown) done, until we make sure that Congress allows Treasury to pay for things that Congress itself already authorized, we are not going to engage in a series of negotiations," Obama said.

It's this dynamic that makes 2013 so much more dangerous than 2011.

The negotiations in 2011 weren't zero sum. For one side to win, the other didn't have to lose. That's because the negotiations in 2011 were over policy — in particular, over a broad deficit reduction package. Since both sides wanted to reduce the deficit, it was conceivable that both sides could walk away feeling like they'd won some and lost some.

That's not true in 2013. The battle this year really is zero-sum. For one side to win, the other has to lose. And that's because this fight isn't over policy. It's over principle. In particular, it's over whether to legitimate for the GOP to demand concessions in return for keeping the government open and paying the country's bills.

Unlike a grand bargain over the deficit, that's a "yes/no" question. As Stutzman puts it, Republicans either get something out of this, or they end up feeling humiliated. Democrats either hold firm on this, or they end up feeling like they've created a terrible precedent that'll make governing impossible going forward.

A few weeks back Hill staffers mused about whether there was some way to manage negotiations such that Republicans could credibly tell their base they were negotiating over the shutdown and the debt ceiling and Democrats could credibly say they weren't negotiating over the shutdown and the debt ceiling.

As of yet, nobody has discovered how to create that quantum dealmaking structure. It's possible nobody will. But that means one side or the other has to clearly lose in order for the shutdown to end. And neither side wants to lose. Nobody wants to be disrespected.

© 2013 Washington Post

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