Republicans Threaten Gov’t. Shutdown if Dems Don’t Shoot Santa Claus

After decades of hearing republicans harangue about debt, deficits, and “fiscal responsibility,” one would assume that when they are in the congressional majority and/or the White House, our economy would be stronger and more “fiscally responsible.”

But here’s what actually happens.

History has shown that when put in the driver’s seat, republicans run up as much debt and cut taxes on the wealthy as fast as they can.

This immediate economic jolt fools a lot of people into believing the economy is healthy.

This inevitably leads to soaring debt.

They do this because they know eventually a Democratic president is going to come along again, Democrats will again hold a congressional majority, and they’re going to “play Santa Claus,” as former republican strategist Jude Wanniski warned about in his “Two Santa Clauses” strategy in the Wall Street Journal in 1974.

The strategy is simple.

When republicans are in power, they are to throw out any semblance of “fiscal responsibility.”

Their wealthy campaign contributors and corporations get more massive tax cuts and military spending goes through the roof.

But when Democrats are in power, those same profligate republicans turn around and scream about the national debt threatening to “burden our children and grandchildren” with all those “wasteful entitlements” (i.e. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP benefits, public education, unemployment insurance, infrastructure, and the minimum wage).

In so doing, they force Democrats to “shoot Santa Claus”–cut social safety nets, agree to tax cuts that benefit the rich, halt infrastructure spending, and undermine unions.

And it has worked every time since Ronald Reagan embraced Jude Wanniski’s strategy four decades ago.

The first Democratic president after Reagan, Bill Clinton, fell for it.

Proclaiming an end “to welfare as we know it” and “the era of big government,” Clinton opened the door to embarrassing republican victories.

The next Democrat, Barack Obama, bought it too, proposing cuts to Social Security (the “chained CPI”).

Democrats currently hold the majority in both the House and the Senate, and the White House.

Guess what that means.

Right on cue, republicans are threatening to allow the government to default on its debts next month instead of agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, sending the Stock Market reeling.

It’s all part of their plan.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned last week Senate Minority Leader Mitch “the Grim ReaperMcConnell and his fellow GOP obstructionists are about to aim Jude Wanniski’s “Two Santa Clauses” missile against Joe Biden’s economy and America’s standing among other nations.

In a joint statement on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer explained:

“Addressing the debt limit is about meeting obligations the government has already made, like the bipartisan emergency COVID relief legislation from December as well as vital payments to Social Security recipients and our veterans. Furthermore, as the administration warned last week, a reckless republican-forced default could plunge the country into a recession.”

The House passed legislation 220-211 to prevent a government shutdown and suspend the debt limit the next day.

It’s up to the Senate now, with a razor-thin Democratic majority insufficient to circumvent a filibuster, a racist anachronism invented to placate a once-insatiable slave-holding South.

Republicans are determined to metaphorically burn down the house (of Representatives and the one where Joe Biden lives) and literally shut down the government.

What does that mean?

When the government “shuts down,” it basically means the funds appropriated to keep government-funded agencies in daily operation runs out.

The only ones to continue would be those associated with people’s safety, protection of property, or where otherwise “authorized by law.”

We would still receive our mail, and active-duty military personnel would keep reporting for duty.

Particular departments for which Congress has already passed spending bills would be safe.

Ditto agencies that rely on funding other than congressional appropriations.

But civilian Defense Department employees considered “non-essential” would likely be furloughed.

Defense contractors might still be required to report for work, but their duties would likely be curtailed.

Inherently governmental” activities would cease.

According to the Congressional Research Service, previous shutdowns saw the following:

  • New clinical research patients were not accepted at the National Institutes of Health (NIH); hotline calls about diseases went unanswered.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had to stop monitoring diseases. (Not good during a pandemic.)
  • Federal law-enforcement recruitment and testing stopped, including the hiring of 400 border patrol agents.
  • National Park Service (NPS) sites, and national museums and monuments closed.
  • Visa and passport services stopped.
  • Food, consumer products, and workplace safety inspections stopped.
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was unable to verify income and Social Security numbers, producing a 1.2 million backlog that may have delayed mortgage and loan approvals.

Social Security and veterans’ benefits would continue, but may be delayed due to a reduced “non-essential” workforce comprised of those who cut checks, stuff envelopes, and issue new cards.

If certain employees are prohibited from reporting to work, their responsibilities stop or abate.

Workers who stay working may not be paid until Congress passes a spending bill.

Furloughed workers would be prohibited from returning to work until this occurs “except to perform minimal activities as necessary to execute an orderly suspension of agency operations,” according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Probably the most significant impact of a shutdown, though, is cost.

The longest government shutdown, in 2018, delayed or suspended about $18 billion in compensation payments and government purchases of goods and services, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Garbage piled up in and around America’s national parks.

Around 10,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) air traffic controllers deemed essential worked without pay.

Most federal workers were either furloughed or worked for free.

Indigenous communities lost their only healthcare option.

800,000 Americans had no idea when they were going to see their next paychecks.

Even though Donald Trump was president then, it was none other than Mitch McConnell, then Majority Leader, who deserved a great deal of the blame for it.

Just like now.

Economies only work when there’s money circulating through it.

The republicans’ wealthy constituents will be fine.

It’s everyone else who pays the price for their games.

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Ted Millar is writer and teacher. His work has been featured in myriad literary journals, including Better Than Starbucks, The Broke Bohemian, Straight Forward Poetry, Caesura, Circle Show, Cactus Heart, Third Wednesday, and The Voices Project. He is also a contributor to The Left Place blog on Substack, and Medium.