Choke It, Starve It, Shrink It: What That Government Shutdown Talk Is Really About

Now that we know the Republicans have settled on a campaign strategy pledging to “defund” health care reform if they win back Congressional power, it’s time to take a look at what that actually means. Could it be a precursor to a Republican showdown with President Obama repeating the 1995 and 1996 government shutdowns?

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said he thinks the Republicans are hinting at shutdown with their promises to defund everything.

“They want to shrink it to where it doesn’t work, and then when it doesn’t work, they go, ‘Look! It doesn’t work, get rid of it.’ And that’s been their strategy all along,” Trumka told TPM Thursday after speaking to reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. “They don’t talk about how to make things effective; they talk about how to get rid of them.”The push to shut down the government that Dick Morris floated to conservatives last week is picking up some steam. Democrats who experienced the shutdown in 1995 and 1996 told TPM it was disastrous and it would be “un-American” to force people to endure another one.

Is that where the Republican pledges are headed? Could be. GOP leadership is on board with defunding health care and it’s the most popular idea on the America Speaking Out voter forum run by the House Republicans and is included on the tea party’s version of a Contract with America.

“Since we would need 60 senators to stop a filibuster, defunding is really our only option,” said Alex Cortes of

While some GOPers suggest they could cut funding entirely, there is only $150 billion in the reform law that’s discretionary and not self-executing. Those funds are to help the Department of Health and Human Services and the IRS implement the new law, and Republicans believe, “If we exclude those funds, they can’t institute the program,” Cortes said.

“I don’t think a shutdown would eventually happen,” Cortes said. “We’d ultimately win the PR battle if we did it. We won the battle in the 90s because we stood on principle.”

He added that unlike Morris and other Republicans, he does not think a shutdown would be a good thing.

TPM set out to explore who was behind the suddenly-everywhere, thinking perhaps the 501(c)(4) which doesn’t have to disclose its donors was part of some bigger GOP group aiming to oust Democrats this fall.

Turns out, it’s the brianchild of Cortes, a 21-year-old University of Virginia political science student. In 2008 Cortes ran a 527 group called Born Alive Truth to attack Barack Obama’s abortion record from the state senate, earning himself a little press. Now, 163 candidates have signed their pledge to defund the legislation even as the Republican Party stumbled from talking point to talking point: first to repeal, then to repeal and replace and finally, to this new cause.

Cortes briefly worked for a conservative Republican’s primary campaign in Virginia 5th Congressional district while testing the defunding idea this spring. He wants to get more involved in political activity, telling me, “I don’t pay attention to school at all. You learn a lot more in the practical arena.”

If Cortes can raise the funds, DeFundIt may run ads in contested Virginia Congressional races about health care reform.

Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK) told TPM in an interview he’s seeing more Republicans talk about taking the money away to put the brakes on Democratic policies.

“It’s a very interesting ploy, but the problem is you may shut down government,” Begich said. “I guess some people may think that’s good.”

Begich said that, when he was mayor of Anchorage, he threatened a shutdown when he couldn’t get labor concessions out of city workers and in the end it worked out “real well.”

“But you have got to be careful and understand the risk that goes along with that, and I don’t think Republicans understand how to manage that risk,” Begich said.

Senate nominee Joe Miller (R-AK) explained in a recent interview on Fox Business Network that defunding is the only option since Obama would just veto a bill repealing health care. But he went a step farther, linking defunding to a government shutdown:

Miller: So defund everything. Get rid of the socialist aspects of government, not just in health care but the other entitlement areas that are driving us into insolvency.

Host: Of course you’re going to have a — you’re going to have a president who is going to veto anything if there’s a Republican Congress that the Republican Congress tries to enact.

Miller: Well, you got to fund it and the Congress has to have an affirmative vote to do it so that’s a good start point.

Host: So starve them — starve them of the funds, starve the beast, so to speak.

Miller: Absolutely, and have the courage to shut down the government if we have to.

DeFundIt put out this cheat-sheet for which Republicans want to roll back reform.


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