Making shutdownade

Stephen Colbert.  Can I say enough good about him?  In fact, I cannot.  There is so much I like about him.  One of the things I like about him is that he did the following on Day 3 of the shutdown:

  • Invited an engaged couple, whose wedding at the Jefferson Memorial was cancelled due to the shutdown, on to his show;
  • Brought their groomsmen and bridesmaids on the show too;
  • Dressed in a long red robe;
  • Got Mandy Patinkin to sing a “non-denominational Jewish blessing” to the couple;
  • Married the couple– by the power vested in him by the certificate he’d obtained online, and;
  • Got Audra McDonald to sing the couple’s first dance– Billy Idol’s White Wedding.

I just saw this in a rerun tonight.  If you have not seen the whole thing, it’s fun to watch.  The couple is so young and cute!  And there’s even a bit where he calms the bride’s nerves about getting married about on TV.  She carries one of his emmys as her wedding bouquet.  Also, I want the bride’s hair.  The episode is split into 2 parts on  Due to technical ineptitude/bad luck/both, I can’t figure out how to embed the videos here, so I give you links, and I say unto you: lo, you should click them.

Part 1 of the 2013 Government Shutdown Wedding of the Century episode

Part 2 of the 2013 Government Shutdown Wedding of the Century episode

It’s like he took shutdown lemons, and made shutdownade.  Let this be the first of a list called You Know What?  Some Nice Things Happened During the Shutdown.


Day 14: Let’s just go to California Pizza Kitchen.

Day 14!  Welcome to week 3 of the World Championship Adult Playground Face-off.*  Are you tired of this yet?  Do you have shutdown fatigue?



This weekend was like an extended version of one of those social situations where a big group of people are all trying to pick a place to go out to dinner– but one person is a pescatarian and another is a vegan and another has a nut allergy and another is gluten-free and another is doing the paleo thing, eating piles of meat.  A recap:

House Republicans:   We love this place.  Loooove it, it’s so good.  You guys will like it too.  Let’s go there!
President Obama:   I appreciate the constructive nature of this conversation we’re having.  But I have some concerns.
Harry Reid:  Oh, we’ve heard of that place.  You know we can’t eat there.  We’re not even going to negotiate about that.
Paul Ryan:  Hey everybody, I’m still around!
Susan Collins:  What if we go to this place?  They have a bit of funding to open the government for a few months, and we can get a side order of lifting the debt ceiling until the end of the year.  That might give us some time to negotiate without defaulting, and also get furloughed folks back to work.
Harry Reid:  You’re not doing us a favor by proposing we eat dinner, because we need to do that anyway.  We need to find a place we can all eat.


The conventional wisdom of the weekend was that no workable deal would come from the House, and so something needed to come from the Senate.   Yesterday and today, that seems to be what’s happening– Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid are passing dealmaking notes, and passing them to each other instead of to CNN.  The good thing is, maybe this means that there is actual movement forward.  The bad thing is, no one has any idea what they’re discussing.  Generally, it seems like they are negotiating two timeframes:  (1) how long to lift the debt ceiling, and; (2) how long to re-open the government, by providing funding through a short-term continuing resolution.   At this point, it seems like there is some hope for a deal soon, but it’s not clear what the features of that deal would be.

This is all good, in the sense that it’s better than bad.  But it doesn’t seem complete.  Whatever the outcome of the current negotiations, it seems like we’re still talking about temporary fixes.  Let’s say we re-open the government until December 31st.  Let’s say we hit another impasse in negotiating the way forward.  Or, let’s say another member of Congress decides to take a stand about a particular issue and gets enough people to go along with her/him that they can’t pass the next continuing resolution to keep the government open for business on January 1.  Then what?  While it seems like the time frames for lifting of the debt ceiling and for a continuing resolution that would re-open the government and are the main subjects of the current negotiations (and, maybe, the elimination/delay of the medical device tax as a source of funding for Obamacare), it seems that the size of the federal budget is still the subject of some back and forth between the parties.  If they don’t figure that out now, that leaves it pending for future discussion.

Democrats: We can’t keep eating at this place that only serves sequester cuts.  We’ve been going to that place for a while now!
Republicans: But the sequester is delicious!  Waiter, another serving of sequester, please.

Shutdown Snapshots

Federal workers got their last pre-shutdown paychecks this weekend, woohoo!  Thank goodness for automated payment systems.  Just got (60%) paid, it’s…Monday morning.  On my couch, rocking to CNN.  C’mon, let’s get on down now.

Some federal workers on furlough are using their free time to volunteer at a Washington DC food pantry.  I am very impressed with this because I, clearly, am not doing that.  Maybe those people should get paid for having actually worked in some capacity during the shutdown.  I should probably have my next several paychecks withheld for being a horrible person, all louche and lazy, lying around writing this blog.

*No, not that kind of adult playground.


Day 9-10-11: What’s on the table?

Day 10.  Or is it 11?  What happened on Day 9?  I’m not sure.  I do know that at some point in the last few days, Piers Morgan asked Donald Trump how many times he would have said “You’re fired!” by now if he were the CEO of Washington, Inc.  Donald Trump, would you hire or fire Obamacare?  What about John Boehner?  President Obama?

What Piers Morgan failed to ask is whether anyone cares what Donald Trump thinks.  I’m sorry, I’m too busy thinking about whether I should apply for unemployment, because my tutoring job won’t pay me until next month.  Someone ask him what he thinks about that.  No, wait– you know what?  Don’t.  Don’t anyone ask him anything again, ever.  Time for a Donald Trump shutdown.

Day 9-10ish:  People looked around and realized that death benefits were not being paid to the families of fallen soldiers.  Everyone is horrified by this; no one can explain why it happened; a law was passed to fix it.  In the afternoon of day 10, Republicans and Democrats met with the president.  After the meeting, people seemed to be saying more positive things.  Things like ‘useful’ and ‘productive’ and ‘good’ and ‘constructive.’  Better things than ‘no’ and ‘here’s more no’ and ‘no to you and the health care you rode in on’ and ‘no to everything you say until you say yes.’   The stock market got drunk-stupid-happy about this small bitty bit of positivity.  Joe Biden was at this meeting, which was a new development.  His absence had been noted previously, as a sign that no real negotiating was happening.

The Republicans seem to have come to the meeting to offer a 6-week extension of the debt ceiling, but intended to leave the government closed.  Dana Bash reported later that by the end of the meeting, the President had introduced the idea of reopening the government too.  It looks like the President and Sen. Reid are not (at this moment) willing to lift the debt ceiling without re-opening the government.  The message seems to be: Open the government first, and then we’ll negotiate.  But so– what’s left to negotiate after you open the government and lift the debt ceiling?  I’m assuming it’s the approach to the next debt ceiling crisis.  But is it also further cuts in the federal budget, even if we re-open under a continuing resolution that preserves the sequester?  And maybe…Obamacare?

It seems like the Republicans would need to get something in return for re-opening the government, but I don’t know what that would be.  Maybe re-opening Donald Trump.  Oh, but I’m not sure that’s worth it.

Yesterday (Day 10?) I heard Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) in an interview with Jake Tapper.  Rep. Lankford (who has a bit of the HJ about him in this picture) was impressively straightforward.  He said that at this point, defunding Obamacare is “off the table.”  As in, not something the Republicans were going to keep asking for.  Not because they suddenly love it, but because insisting on defunding it is not a realistic way forward at this point.  Say whaaaat?  For real?  Progress!  He also said one of my favorite things anyone has said during the shutdown:

“Ultimately, everybody’s mad at everybody.”


However, later, Anderson Cooper asked Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO) whether defunding Obamacare was off the table.  Rep. Wagner, who was at the White House meeting, told Anderson Cooper that “nothing” had been taken off or put on the table.  She also dropped in references to entitlement reform and tax reform.  Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) told Erin Burnett that he did not come away from the meeting with the sense that anything was “quote-unquote off the table.”  Does that mean…everything is…on it?  Or, off it?  Someone tell me what’s on that table.  It looks like we have:table

  • Main dish: Lifting the debt ceiling, at least for 6 weeks, because oh heeeeyyy, October 17 (or thereabouts) is coming
  • Side dish: Maybe re-opening the government
  • Dessert: Entitlement and tax reform
  • The elephant: Obamacare

Well, if the elephant’s in the room, why can’t it sit at the table?  It’ll probably end up eating the dessert.


The elephant and the donkey have come to the table.  I like to think of the moose in the middle as Canada.

Shutdown Snapshots

Piers Morgan recounted a bit of his who’s-fired-in-Washington conversation with the Donald during an interview with Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT).  In response,  Rep. Himes said that he does not look to Donald Trump for “what is true and good in this world.”  This visibly peeved the Piers.  Bravo!

Do you like cupcakes?  Click this link for a Government Shutdown Cupcakes recipe!  Ingredients include indecision and bickering; mix until you end up with nothing.

Maybe you don’t like cupcakes, but you do like booze.  In that case, you should drunk dial congress through!  They have some pretty great-sounding cocktail recipes (I think I might try the Bad Representative), as well ready-made nuggets of outrage for you, including:

  • I can’t watch the panda!
  • Why don’t you make yourselves useful and at least mow the lawn!

Shutdown, Predux: 1995

Time is a funny thing.  It moves forwards, backwards, in circles.  Close your eyes, load the Delorean of your mind with Libyan plutonium, and travel with me back through history to visit one of the last times our government shut down.  Today, the Delorean stops in late 1995–  when the organs of our democratic body most recently failed.


1995: The last year Washington put on a show to remember.

Welcome!  Now that we’re here, let’s look around at the few remaining days of 1995.  Out there in the world, the Soviet Union has collapsed; apartheid has been legally repealed and electorally rejected; Hong Kong is still British.  The Bosnian War is almost over; Yitzhak Rabin was just assassinated.

You might have a computer in your house, but unless you’re some kind of superserious computery technophile, you probably don’t have the Internets yet.   Grunge was cool, but it’s kinda over.  People read “Doonesbury,” in print newspapers that they pay for.  Maybe you’re watching a movie, like “Clueless.”  Or, “Showgirls.”  Should we turn on the TV?  There’s a new show called “Friends” that seems pretty good.

What are you up to these days?  Me, I’m just, you know, around.  I’m busy not owning a pager, and paying only the most notional of attentions to…

The 1995-1996 Government Shutdown

How did it happen?

Remember the Contract With America?  It’s short- you can read it here.  The midterm elections of 1994 brought a Republican majority to both the House and Senate, for the first time in 40 years.  The significance of this shift was branded in a way that, had Twitter existed at the time, surely would have been fodder for hashtaggery– this was the Republican Revolution.  Newt Gingrich became Speaker of the House, Bob Dole became Senate Majority Leader.  Bill Clinton was president.  It was a great time for middle-aged white guys.  Then, as now, revolutionaries came to national office on a crusade.

The importance of balancing the federal budget was an article of faith for the 1994 group.  One part of the Contract With America was a promise to take a zero-based budgeting approach to the federal budget process.  Zero-based budgeting “differs from traditional budgeting processes by examining all expenses for each new period, not just incremental expenditures in obvious areas,” and means that justification is needed for every expense, every year.    A balanced budget amendment was proposed, but like much of the legislation introduced as a result of the Contract With America, it passed in the House and failed in the Senate.  The Republican Revolution legislatively stalled at the end of fiscal year 1995.

Then what happened?

A continuing resolution  kept the government open from the end of September until November 13, 1995 to allow for budget negotiations. Those negotiations failed, and so the government shut down.

A few days later, after President Clinton agreed to the Republican condition that he balance the budget within the next 7 years.  A new continuing resolution kept the government open until December 15, 1995, which allowed for the two sides to negotiate over what, exactly, this balanced budget promise would mean.   But while they could agree on the goal of balancing the budget, they could not come together on how to reach that goal, and so the government shut down again.  This second shutdown lasted until January 6, 1996.

What else happened?

The whole let’s-threaten-to-not-raise-the-debt-ceiling thing?  Newt Gingrich is an O.G. when it comes to that move– according to this source, he did that in 1995.   Also, a few sources I read said that the November shutdown may have been set in motion in part as a result of Gingrich having felt personally snubbed by President Clinton while they travelled together for Yitzhak Rabin’s funeral.  And, as we know, during the December phase of the shutdown, Bill Clinton treated himself to a blow job or two, which eventually maybe irked Gingrich more than the whole airplane snub.

Clinton Lewinsky during 1995 shutdown

What a lovely father-daughter picture. Oh, wait…

Interestingly, if I’m reading this correctly, Congress found a way to fund Veterans Affairs through the December-January part of the shutdown.  Hopefully, they find a way to do this again, since veterans might not receive monthly benefits as of November 1 if this shutdown is still…shutting down.

How did it stop happening?

Essentially, President Clinton agreed to a budget that cut both taxes and spending— specifically Medicare and Medicaid spending, as well as “other domestic programs.”  A few minutes later, the 1996 presidential election got up and running.  One source I read pointed out that Dole had an interest in ending the shutdown so that he could go do other things, like run for president.

At the end of it all, the conventional wisdom seems to be that the Republicans paid a steep price for modest wins in reducing the federal budget.  Gingrich in particular came out looking…well, like this:


What can we learn from this?

That is a good question.  I’ve heard a lot of people say that the 1995 shutdown was about the budget in a way that this shutdown is not.  Gingrich, Dole, and Clinton were negotiating how much to spend on different programs, whereas in this shutdown, funding the government has been linked with legislative provisions that take aim at the Affordable Care Act.   Reid and Boehner have different budget totals that they would prefer, but previously agreed on a budget at $988 billion.   However, while there is more agreement this time on the budget amounts, it’s still a fight over the size and shape of the federal government.

You should tell me what you think in the comments.  Here are a few thoughts to get us started:

– Shutting down the government is a way to get at least some of what you want.  (This may or may not include ‘sexual relations with that woman.’)
– You have to give the opposition something it wants to end a shutdown.
– Do not snub Newt Gingrich.  If he is on a plane with you, please show him the utmost courtesy.
– Revolutionary politics make it hard to compromise.

Useful sources on the 1995 shutdown:

Servicey addendum:  See this article for an interesting discussion of the history and effects of continuing resolutions.  If you want even more information about continuing resolutions– or CRs– read this Congressional Research Service report.  Full disclosure– I have a brain crush on the entire Congressional Research Service.  If you ever resent paying your taxes, read a CRS report, and then marvel at how well-informed you feel.


Day 8: Like It’s 1389

Day 8: Whew, it’s been a week already?  Happy one week shutdown anniversary, everybody!  Speaking of anniversaries, I was at a wonderful wedding over the weekend, and so I have some catching up to do.  So, like, is the government still shut down?  What do you say, Fox News graphic?


Brought to my attention during a Moment of Zen.

What was up in the air with days 5, 6, 7, and 8?

Day 5 (Saturday): The House unanimously passed a bill to retroactively pay all furloughed federal employees once the government re-opens.

Pro: Yay, I’ll get paid!
Con: Why should I get paid for not working?
Pro: Don’t be such a martyr.  First of all, it’s not all about you.  Second of all, it’s not your fault that you’re not working.
Con: What about all the ‘essential’ federal employees who are working right now, and also not getting paid?  For example, these federal prison employees are still working.  These TSA employees are still working.  None of them are getting paid while they work.  How in the world is this fair to them?  What am I, on paid vacation or something?
Pro: It’s not fair to them, but it’s also not your fault.  It’s just the way things are working out.
Con: But– if they agree now on backpay, then there’s one less source of pressure on everyone to come to an agreement and re-open the government.  And then who knows how long this’ll go on?
Pro: Well…that’s true.

Day 6 (Sunday): No one really did anything.  After the wedding, I went to the outlets with my friends, contemplated the stubborn challenges of adulthood.  Like acne.  Well, more specifically– having wrinkles and acne at the same time.  Mmm, well, if we’re putting it all out there– wrinkles and acne and chin hair.

The Atlantic posted a similarly dispiriting blog couplet: Sunday Shutdown Reader #1 and Sunday Shutdown Reader #2.  It went something like this:
Sunday Shutdown Reader #1: How many times do we need to refight the Civil War?
Sunday Shutdown Reader #2: The Serbs have been refighting the Battle of Blackbird Fields since 1389.

Day 7 (Monday): Conference Blog, the blog of (which, according to its…self is the ‘website of the House Republican majority’), posted an explanation of why Obamacare is unfair.  Meanwhile, posted a blog about how “John Boehner is afraid.”  The Christian Science Monitor posted a piece titled “Government Shutdown: Are Things Getting Better– Or Worse?”  Here’s a hint: there are comparisons to the Battle of Gettysburg.  Here’s another hint: the article includes a Bloomberg video in which the analyst holds up two hands and pretends they are cars speeding toward each other.

Day 8 (Today): The Senate is taking its time with this whole backpay thing.  Meanwhile, the House passed H.J. Res 84:  Head Start Continuing Appropriations Resolution, 2014, seemingly continuing with the idea of passing legislation to fund specific parts of the government.  There are rumblings that House Republicans will bring a bill to the floor to create a 20-member bicameral, bipartisan committee to work out both how to fund the government and how to handle the debt ceiling.  The committee would be called the Bicameral Working Group on Deficit Reduction and Economic Growth, and would have 10 members from the House and 10 from the Senate.  According to the National Journal, the legislation creating the committee stipulates that it could not recommend anything– “unless it receives the support of a majority of the members appointed by both the Speaker and the majority leader of the Senate.”

So– this committee of 20 people will be able to…come to a majority consensus on something?  I hate to quibble, but don’t we need an odd number of people to avoid a deadlock?  Also, I seem to remember another recent bipartisan committee experience.  And, you know, that seemed to go well.

Today is also the day I got offered a part-time job.  So hey, small victories.


Party People: Sen. Harry Reid

In between the day-to-day summaries, I also want to get to know the people of both parties in the shutdown– and not just their facial hair.  Today, I want to think a little bit about someone we all recognize by now– Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV.  He is fascinating.  He is Mormon.  He grew up poor in the desert, chasing rabbits for dinner.  He was an amateur boxer.  He was Lieutenant Governor of Nevada at age 30, and was chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1977, when the mob was a thick thing in Vegas.  Anecdotally at least, he did things like refuse bribes by saying “You son of a bitch, you tried to bribe me,” and then moving to choke his briber.  (According to this last source, an attempt was made on his life in 1981– a bomb was wired to his car, but did not detonate.)

Harry Reid

The moment right before Harry Reid flips you the bird.

Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1977?  Harry Reid faced down the mob, for crying out loud.  Are you messing with Harry Reid?  Why are you doing that?  You do not mess with Harry Reid.

I don’t think I’m the only one who has noticed that Senator Reid speaks his mind with great frankness, under all circumstances.  He has somehow risen to a position of great power without being a smooth talker.  Really, none of his talks are smooth in that typical political way.  He is idiosyncratic, vivid in his language, and often provocative.  He is his own thing.  So that we may get better acquainted with this particular thing he’s created, I have gathered a supply of notable moments in shutdown-related Harryreidery:

Shutdown negotiations are not about allowing anyone to save face; this is not like “a date to the prom.”

Help one child with cancer?   “Why would we do that?”

On Sen. Ted Cruz: “He has gotten through life by being very smart and talking down to everyone.”

On Rep. John Boehner: He may be keeping the government shut down because Harry Reid “hurt his feelings.”  If that is the case, Sen. Reid has a message for Rep. Boehner:
“I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”

On Republicans: “They’ve lost their minds.”

I have a feeling that as the shutdown continues, this supply of notable moments in Harryreidery will only grow.  harry reid


Day 4: Medically Assisted Suicide, or; A Hymn for Ryan Lizza

Day 4: Medical devices.

I’ve been thinking about medical devices.  Have you?

I’ve been thinking about this because I’ve noticed that over the last couple of days, as I’ve obsessively watched CNN, I’ve heard members of Congress make casual remarks along the lines of:

  • Well, if we could just get rid of this medical device tax…
  • The President isn’t willing to negotiate over the medical device tax…

This seems like a pretty clear invitation to dance.  Waltz with me won’t you, to the dulcet tones of the words ‘tax repeal?’ The tax is one of three sources of funding for Obamacare, and given its potential impact on domestic medical device manufacturers, some Democrats (Elizabeth Warren!  Al Freakin’ Franken!) have voted against the tax in the past and seem to have indicated their willingness to negotiate on it now.  Is this the issue that allows both sides to give a bit to get something?  Maybe this is, in the words of Rep. Jim McDermott, the face-saver.

The 2.3% tax will apply to items like pacemakers, stents, tools used in surgery…I’ve seen a couple of articles that say it covers anything a doctor uses, including tongue depressors, so who knows.  None of these costs would be (directly) paid by the patient, but by the manufacturer of the device.

The Washington Post’s opinion editors called repealing the medical device tax an ‘idea full of holes.’  “It figures that the only policy idea that might bring the two parties together is not a terribly good one,” they wrote.  They point out that it’s hard to have a lot of sympathy for an industry with costs offset by government funds through Medicare and Medicaid.  Also, widespread coverage under Obamacare would lead to more patients with access to medical devices, which would be a direct benefit to device manufacturers and would to some extent offset the tax.

This contributor, interestingly, says repealing the tax is a good idea, but not for the reasons you might think.   “Most industry complaints about the levy — that it costs jobs and stifles innovation — are unconvincing,” he writes.  In his view, the medical device tax is unfair in terms philosophical, if not practical.  That is, because Obamacare is a broad-based social program, it should be funded by a similarly cross-cutting mechanism, not by a tax on one specific part of the medical industry.

I’ve heard members of Congress on both sides of the aisle say things like– ‘Do I think Obamacare is perfect?  No.  Should we leave it in place and fix it? Yes.’  I wonder if this device tax is one of those imperfections that the cooler heads on the Hill are looking at fixing.

But even then– let’s say that’s what gets it done.  Medical device tax repealed, and we re-open the government.  Then it feels like really, all this time– that’s what all this was about?  Next time folks, use your words.

Shutdown Snapshots

In contrast to the cooler heads on the hill, my boo Ryan Lizza recently wrote about the GOP ‘suicide caucus‘ and its role in the shutdown.  (Lizza did not christen the caucus– apparently, Charles Krauthammer did, on Fox News.  Side note– I can’t get enough of Krauthammer’s eyebrows.  Give me more Krauthbrows.)  My boo’s point is that (1) the suicide caucus members are from ‘supermajority’ districts where their only concern would be a challenge from further to the right, and (2) Obama lost hard in these districts.  These members represent “an America where the population is getting whiter, where there are few major cities, where Obama lost the last election in a landslide, and where the Republican Party is becoming more dominant and more popular.  Meanwhile, in national politics, each of these trends is actually reversed.”   Gawker further reduced the suicide caucus to a tasty sauce of 10 particularly striking individuals— the ‘suicide caucus’ suicide caucus.’ Say that as many times fast as you can, while pondering the placement of the apostrophe at the end of singular nouns that end in ‘s.’

And yes, I referred to Ryan Lizza as my boo.  My nerd crush on him is getting worse by the day.  Hey– I’m just blogging, and this is crazy, but I like your style, so call me maybe?  I might introduce a Ryan Lizza feature here.  Today’s DeLizza-ious Dose:


I know, he’s married. Don’t speak–don’t tell me ’cause it hurts!

That is terrible, DeLizza-ious Dose!  Oh, wow.  Like, awful.  So bad.  Let’s cleanse our palates.  Ryan, do you ever leave Washington?  If you’re ever in my neck of the woods, I have a song for you.  I mean, I’m on a furlough and everything, so– I don’t have a lot of money, but we’ll be fine…

And now: A Hymn for Ryan Lizza

Facial Hair In the Halls of Power update: Yesterday’s pro-Chavez facestache belongs to Rep. Jose Serrano, D-NY, representing the Boogie-down Bronx:


Does he remind anyone else of a slightly younger Most Interesting Man In the World?