I remember it well. It was Christmastime 1995, and much of the business establishment seemed furious with then-Speaker Newt Gingrich. As his political chair, I was hearing them out. Moreover, I was by then CEO of one of the nation's largest producers of corporate annual reports -- big-ticket items -- so I was listening intently.
But I had no influence. Bill Clinton was having nothing to do with Newt's threats to "shut down" the government, and that is exactly what Newt did -- twice -- both in December of 1995 and again in January of 1996. The result? Clinton ultimately agreed to contain the budget, endorsed capital gains reform and declared that the "era of big government is over."
Oh, yes, they called Newt the "Gingrich Whole Stole Christmas," and a good man but weak presidential nominee, Bob Dole, paid the price for Newt's following unpopularity -- or more likely, the popularity of Clinton, who appeared more moderate and pro-business as a result of Gingrich freeing him up to be the true moderate he was in those days. But few remember that it was Clinton whose popularity dipped during the shutdown. How quickly the public forgot and still does -- a point worth noting.
While nothing from generation to generation is completely comparable, Gingrich and his fellow Republicans stuck their necks out against a growing public outrage and forced real change in this nation. It may be the most recent time such a brave act took place.
I recognize that "falling off the cliff" is viewed as the equivalent of not passing TARP on the first round in the House during the 2008 monetary meltdown. But do these business leaders really believe they are going to get the type of relief they need -- keeping taxes on dividend-yielding income low, for example -- in some last-minute agreement cobbled together between the White House and Congress? If so, they are fooling themselves.
This is more about the idiotic agreement to surrender to automatic sequestration within the federal government, which will emerge on Jan. 1 if no deal is reached -- and more specifically is driven by a desire to preserve defense spending. No one is against spending necessary dollars on defense, or other areas of government. But if Republicans are ever going to quit supplying additional money for the administration to expand the so-called "welfare state," now is the time.