The political battlefield of the current government shutdown looks a lot like the last big shutdown of 1995. But major changes within the Republican Party in Congress — a weaker leadership, the demise of moderates and two decades of gerrymandering — could make this year’s endgame far harder.
Then as now, a rebellious Republican Congress used a budget bill to set up a deliberate confrontation with a Democratic president over spending priorities. GOP militants and radicals in the House – today’s wing nuts — bet that gridlock, disarray and the embarrassment of a shutdown would force the White House to give in.
Then, as now, the president defied the Republican brinksmanship and took the political risk of a government shutdown rather than bowing to the GOP’s surrender terms. Former President Bill Clinton enjoyed the sport of sparring with Congress and President Barack Obama, after giving in so many times in the past three years, has finally decided to dig in his heels.
What’s more, some of the keys to reopening the government and getting things back on track in 1995 are missing today. Most important, the political dynamics within the Republican Party have been transformed.
In 1995, Republicans controlled both the House of Representatives and Senate, so voters held them more responsible for making government work. Today, militant House Republicans calculate that when government looks dysfunctional, Democrats will get blamed, since they hold the White House and control the Senate.