Everyone Won the Government Shutdown

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

What if you shut the federal government down and everyone was better off for it?

Take John Boehner, R-Ohio, who was on the loser ledger of any serious accounting in the immediate aftermath of the shutdown. The House speaker had led his troops into a battle he knew—and had told them—they couldn't win. Sixteen days later, with the Republican brand bloodied and at all-time lows, he would have to back down, almost unconditionally.

Then a funny thing happened. The GOP rank and file began to coalesce around him. Boehner's tea-party antagonists in the House appreciated his fight; his allies appreciated that he was right. "A leader without followers is simply a man taking a walk," Boehner later told funnyman Jay Leno. Boehner was done with lonely walks.

"In the long term, it has definitely turned out to be a turning point, and a positive turning point, for the Republican Conference," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. Boehner has since helped muscle through a bipartisan budget, a bipartisan farm bill, and a debt-limit hike without losing control of his famously fractious conference.

"I'm not going to say it was worth it," King continued. "Things have turned out for the better, I'll put it that way."

It's been 150 days since congressional Republicans forced the closure of the federal government in a last-ditch effort to derail and defund Obamacare. They failed spectacularly at achieving that goal. But as each day passes, it's getting harder to find a political figure—Boehner, President Obama, Ted Cruz, House Democrats, Harry Reid—who didn't benefit in some way from the fight.

Five months later, the Great Government Freeze of 2013 is proving an appreciating asset.

This is not to discount the federal workers who suffered from a delayed paycheck or the Americans who were denied needed services. (Or the panda lovers blocked from their beloved live video feed from the National Zoo.) But the political obituaries written last October are turning out to be premature.

The shutdown renewed Washington's hand-wringing about gridlock, but the gears of government have actually begun to turn more efficiently ever since. Congress passed its first bipartisan budget in years. The long-stalled farm bill reached the president's desk. And playing chicken with the debt limit, which had left the markets frustrated, gave way to a relatively drama-free lifting of the borrowing cap in February.

"There are no winners here," Obama insisted as the government reopened last October. He specifically cited the "completely unnecessary damage on our economy" from the shutdown. Yet early economic indicators suggest the impact of the shutdown was far from devastating, and it certainly didn't drive the U.S. economy back into recession. "I don't call the shutdown a good thing," said Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican and a Boehner confidant. He said the government closure obscured more than two weeks of a broken HealthCare.gov website, and "absent the Obamacare debacle, we'd still be bleeding." But Cole did say the shutdown has changed the dynamics in the House for the better. With hindsight, he said, Boehner was "unquestionably a big winner."

Then there are the obvious political victors: Obama, whose unyielding stance broke the back of the GOP opposition and chilled the precedent of using must-pass legislation as political hostages; Reid, who got the fight he'd been demanding, and won; and House Democrats, who raised gobs of money.

Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in an email that Republicans still have "never adequately recovered," and argued that the shutdown "just reinforced their brand as reckless, irresponsible, and out of touch." The DCCC's best day for online fundraising in 2013 was the 24 hours leading up to the shutdown. And in the week after Cruz's 21-hour filibuster, the committee hauled in $2 million online.

The shutdown fight certainly helped Cruz cement himself as a household name. The freshman Republican senator from Texas is now a hero to the tea party, if not its de facto 2016 presidential standard-bearer. "It was a huge boost to Ted, because the frustration with a lot of the Republicans and conservatives [is], it seems like Republicans are never up for a fight," said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express.

Cruz's advisers firmly believe the shutdown will continue to pay dividends when the health care law falters, which they see as inevitable, and the public remembers Cruz as the man who fought hardest to stop it. "In terms of whether we should've stood and fought on Obamacare, I think the proof is in the pudding," Cruz told CBS's Bob Schieffer in late January. "Millions of people across the country have seen now why we were standing and fighting, because Obamacare's a disaster."

Meanwhile, the outside conservative groups that agitated for a showdown added reams of new members. The Senate Conservatives Fund collected more than 2 million signatures on its defunding petition, pocketing an army of new activist email addresses. In December, the group hawked "Ted Cruz Was Right" bumper stickers to try to turn those email addresses into donors.

And while such groups have seen their influence wane somewhat in the halls of Congress since the shutdown, they won a more cynical victory. The most lasting impact of the shutdown may be how it further eroded Americans' faltering trust in their government—a boost to the tea party's limited-government ethos.

Faith in the institution has almost never been lower.

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec
 
 

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by Brocade

    Best of 2016 Federal Forum eBook

    Earlier this summer, Federal and tech industry leaders convened to talk security, machine learning, network modernization, DevOps, and much more at the 2016 Federal Forum. This eBook includes a useful summary highlighting the best content shared at the 2016 Federal Forum to help agencies modernize their network infrastructure.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    GBC Flash Poll Series: Merger & Acquisitions

    Download this GBC Flash Poll to learn more about federal perspectives on the impact of industry consolidation.

    Download
  • Sponsored by One Identity

    One Nation Under Guard: Securing User Identities Across State and Local Government

    In 2016, the government can expect even more sophisticated threats on the horizon, making it all the more imperative that agencies enforce proper identity and access management (IAM) practices. In order to better measure the current state of IAM at the state and local level, Government Business Council (GBC) conducted an in-depth research study of state and local employees.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    The Next Federal Evolution of Cloud

    This GBC report explains the evolution of cloud computing in federal government, and provides an outlook for the future of the cloud in government IT.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    A DevOps Roadmap for the Federal Government

    This GBC Report discusses how DevOps is steadily gaining traction among some of government's leading IT developers and agencies.

    Download
  • Sponsored by LTC Partners, administrators of the Federal Long Term Care Insurance Program

    Approaching the Brink of Federal Retirement

    Approximately 10,000 baby boomers are reaching retirement age per day, and a growing number of federal employees are preparing themselves for the next chapter of their lives. Learn how to tackle the challenges that today's workforce faces in laying the groundwork for a smooth and secure retirement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Hewlett Packard Enterprise

    Cyber Defense 101: Arming the Next Generation of Government Employees

    Read this issue brief to learn about the sector's most potent challenges in the new cyber landscape and how government organizations are building a robust, threat-aware infrastructure

    Download
  • Sponsored by Aquilent

    GBC Issue Brief: Cultivating Digital Services in the Federal Landscape

    Read this GBC issue brief to learn more about the current state of digital services in the government, and how key players are pushing enhancements towards a user-centric approach.

    Download
  • Sponsored by CDW-G

    Joint Enterprise Licensing Agreements

    Read this eBook to learn how defense agencies can achieve savings and efficiencies with an Enterprise Software Agreement.

    Download
  • Sponsored by Cloudera

    Government Forum Content Library

    Get all the essential resources needed for effective technology strategies in the federal landscape.

    Download

When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.