In 1995, Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich faced off over Newt’s proposed budget, which included spending cuts in non-essential government services and proposed reductions in the rate of growth of entitlement spending. At the time, the country was facing a roughly $300 billion budget deficit, and Republicans were serious about getting federal spending under control.
But Bill Clinton, the master of phony tear-wiping, lip-biting “I feel your pain” sentimentalism, fought hard against Gingrich and led the Democrats in a brutal portrayal of Republicans as evil hate-mongers bent on starving children, poisoning the environment, killing AIDS patients, and forcing the elderly to skip medical treatments and eat dog food, all so that their evil rich cronies in corporate America could pay less income tax to the government. To this end, Clinton refused to compromise with Gingrich and refused to sign a continuing resolution to keep the government funded while Congress wrangled over the budget. This effectively shut down the government and provided ample fodder for the press to publish daily “why do the Republicans hate poor people and public employees” stories, until Republicans caved and handed Clinton a major political victory.
Fast forward to today. President Obama’s proposed budget, released earlier this week, utterly fails to address runaway government spending, and reduces deficit spending only by a combined $1.1 trillion over the next ten years. Under his proposal, Federal spending grows appreciably every year, reaching nearly $5.5 trillion by 2020 and adding another $8 trillion to the national debt.
Republicans responded by accusing President Obama of avoiding tough decisions until after the 2012 elections. They have countered President Obama’s budget with a short-term plan that includes $100 billion in immediate across-the-board spending reductions, including reductions for government entitlement programs, and an attempt to again address the issue of Social Security and Medicare solvency. Naturally social justice liberals and Big Labor are screaming. And Democrats are excited, because this is a fight that they have always won. One Democratic strategist called Republicans “suckers” for daring to bring up entitlements and Social Security/Medicare reform. They think they will stomp Republicans as decisively as they did in 1995.
Are Republicans ready this time? Well for one thing, we learned a hard lesson in ’95. And we know the Democrat playbook a lot better now. Rush Limbaugh spent a great deal of time yesterday discussing the government shutdown of 1995. And ‘Lexington Green’ of the Chicago Boyz blog discussed 1995 at length in an excellent post two days ago:
Obama is betting that he can force the GOP to make their proposed
cuts, which he can blame them for, which he can truthfully say he does
not support. Then he can attack the Republicans for making the cuts.
He will appeal to the people who are suffering from the cuts, and strip
away GOP support. They will be angry and mobilized.
Obama then plans to force the GOP into a funding crisis just as
Clinton did. Obama plans to destroy the GOP reform wave of 2011 just as
Clinton destroyed the GOP reform effort in 1995.
Obama’s team attempted to use the Tucson massacre in the same fashion
that Clinton used the Oklahoma City bombings, to discredit the GOP.
Obama is acutely aware of the Clinton playbook. This is another re-run.
If Obama wins, then the GOP / Tea Party effort is over and the
Democrats have won the whole ball game. Obama gets reelected, the GOP
is finished as a political party, and we have a mess for some number of
years while a new party forms. But odds are it will be too late by
then. A majority of people will be dependent on the Government.
It is that serious. Obama’s brazen, no-cuts budget proposal is not a sign of weakness.
It is a bold chess move that demands a strong response.
I agree with this analysis, but Obama has several things working against him that Bill Clinton did not have to deal with in 1995.
First of all, Obama is no Bill Clinton. He has neither the political
experience, nor the intra-party leadership ability, nor the widespread
likability with the general public that greatly benefited Clinton in
1995. He will have to rely on others in the party, particularly leaders
of special interests like Big Labor, to keep his political base
energized. There is simply no way that he can be as effective as Bill
Second, Obama faces a full-fledged opposition media.
He has to deal with Fox News, which didn’t exist in 1995 and today is
the most watched news network. And he has to deal with the conservative
blogosphere, also nonexistant in 1995, and which today represents a
major public resource for news and political opinion. Then there is the
Internet itself, which forgets nothing and remains a repository of
every broken campaign promise uttered by Barack Obama and the Democratic
leadership of the 111th Congress.
Finally, there is the economy.
We are currently in the longest and deepest recession since WWII. The
unemployment picture, particularly the outlook for long-term job market
growth including re-hiring those who have been laid off, is the worst
since the Great Depression. Millions upon millions of hard working
Americans who once had good jobs and who dilligently saved for
retirement and invested in home ownership have been financially
devistated by job losses and the stock market crash. Many who lost
their jobs in 2008 – 2009 were forced to cash in their retirement
savings at the bottom of the bear market in order to pay the bills, and
subsequently lost most — if not all — of what they had saved.
Millions have lost homes to foreclosure or now hold an underwater
All of this has created a new class of Americans,
mostly Boomers and older Generation X, who were previously financially
independent, but are now financially strapped — and fear that they will
be forced to depend primarily on Social Security and Medicare when they
reach retirement age. They are also deeply resentful of government
employees with generous salaries and benefits and guaranteed retirement
plans, all funded by their tax dollars. The middle and upper middle
class Americans who have been hit the hardest during the past three
years are also those who are most likely to turn up at the polls
as issue-driven voters. Their new home is the Tea Party, and their
primal scream was heard loud and clear in the 2010 elections.
failed $800 billion stimulus plan, his trillion-dollar deficits, and
the looming insolvency of Social Security and Medicare are serious
issues, and Boomers and Gen X’ers want serious solutions to those
problems, not “starving-children-and-killing-grandma” propaganda. The
long term financial stability of the United States government is more
important now than ever before. If Democrats want to treat it like a
political game, then they no longer have the right to be considered
“leaders.” And they will deserve to lose.