Lawmaking is one of those sink-or-swim conventions, a unique exercise that separates good campaigners, those champions of conciliation, from good lawmakers willing to do what's right with no regard for political fortune. The sad realization borne of Washington's current funding standoff is that too many Republicans are drowning.
When I first landed in Georgia's state legislature in 2004, I learned quickly the key to success was threefold: possess the strength to lead when others would not; the wisdom to negotiate without compromising principles; and the courage to stay the course even amid a hostile environment.
To be clear, frustrations with the government shutdown are both profound and legitimate. Just as my son, a cadet at West Point, is impacted, so too are our nation's veterans who've already served. Others still have been locked out of newly-throttled government services on which they depend.
Those grievances notwithstanding, the media has perpetuated a trio of falsehoods to poison America's perception of the shutdown and what produced it.
1. Temporary federal government shutdowns are not historically unusual: there have been 17 government shutdowns in just the last 40 years. Fifteen occurred when Democrats controlled Congress while only two registered in Republican rule. Only one president, Republican George W. Bush, in a stretch of seven chief executives occupied the White House without a shutdown.
2. While federal government shutdowns do inflict short term difficulties, they do not result in long term economic harm: eight of the last shutdowns occurred during the booming 1980’s. And the most recent shutdowns, in 1995 and 1996, were followed by the only four years of balanced federal budgets since World War II.
3. A federal government shutdown–if it leads to constructive fiscal reforms–is not politically harmful, yet acquiescence to irresponsible policies are: after the 1995-96 federal government shutdown, which led to tighter federal spending, the GOP held the U.S. House for another decade and the Senate for the next 8 of 10 years. Republicans only lost control of both chambers when they lost their fiscal way, going-along-to-get-alone with deficits and government largesse.
Republicans are on the right side of the standoff and history. The damage to America and the GOP will be severe if good campaigning trumps good lawmaking: Obamacare is an economic disaster, and poll-driven submission will leave Republicans wandering the political desert.
President Obama must come to the table. If he can negotiate with foreign dictators, he can negotiate in good conscience with his fellow Americans in Congress. But Republicans must remember the key to success once he's there: lead where others cannot, negotiate wisely, and stay the course.
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