Beam: Shutdowns had different causes

By By Jim Beam / American Press

“What caused the government shutdown in 1995?” a friend asked at breakfast Wednesday. I couldn’t remember, although I knew

Bill Clinton was president at the time.

Thanks to Google, the answers were out there. And there was information that showed government shutdowns aren’t popular with

American citizens. They can also cause serious political fallout for those believed to be responsible.

Surprisingly, there have been 17

different shutdowns since 1976, according to The Washington Post. The

newspaper said there

were two in 1995-96, one lasting five days (Nov. 14-19) and the

other 21 (Dec. 16-Jan. 6). It was the longest shutdown ever.

Republican opposition to Obamacare, which opened its health insurance exchanges Tuesday, is the reason for the current shutdown.

The shutdowns in 1995-96 came after Clinton and Congress couldn’t agree on efforts to balance the budget.

Some political history helps explain

how the earlier shutdowns came about. Clinton had been elected president

the first time

in 1992, and, two years later, Republicans won both the House and

Senate at the 1994 mid-term elections. That ended 40 years

of Democratic control of the House.

U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was elected speaker of the House, and came up with the Contract With America that promised

major cuts to government programs. The contract especially targeted health care programs that were extremely popular with

the public. Republicans stuck to their guns, and the shutdowns came.

The first five-day shutdown ended when

Clinton agreed to Republican demands to balance the budget in seven

years. The second

ended when Republican Senate Majority Leader Robert “Bob” Dole of

Kansas and Clinton came to terms with more acceptable budget


The Pew Research Center said the 1995-96 shutdowns themselves weren’t a political disaster for Republicans.

“Certainly, the government shutdown didn’t help the GOP’s image, but the party lost support among the public well before the

initial shutdown in November 1995...,” the center said.

Just like today, Americans didn’t want

Republicans, or anyone else, messing with their entitlement programs.

Pew said the

public’s views about Republican leaders’ policies were positive in

the month after the election (52 percent approved and only

28 percent disapproved). The tables had turned by August of 1995

(just before the shutdowns) when only 38 percent approved

of GOP proposals and 45 percent disapproved.

Clinton benefited. A month after the

November 1994 mid-term elections, only 41 percent approved of the

president’s job performance,

compared to 47 percent who disapproved. By March of 1996, two

months after the shutdowns, Clinton had a job approval rating

of 55 percent.

A strong economy helped Clinton easily defeat Dole in the 1996 presidential election, but the Republicans retained control

of both houses of Congress.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is leading

the fight against Obamacare, and he doesn’t buy the argument that

Republicans were

big losers because of the 1995-96 shutdowns. Cruz said today there

are “young leaders in the Senate” who can “drive a message,”

according to a report from the British Broadcasting Corp.’s

Washington news bureau. The senator added that Clinton was a master

strategist and Obama isn’t.

Maybe so, but most agree Obama isn’t going to throw in the towel on his signature health care law. It’s one of the few things

he can brag about from what has been an uninspiring presidency.

Conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer talked about the shutdown on the Bill O’Reilly show on Fox News.

“This (shutdown) is a lifeline for an

administration that’s drowning,” Krauthammer said. “His numbers are low,

the administration

is in disarray, humiliated abroad, an economy stuck in the mud at

home. He really has got nowhere to go...”

Krauthammer said in a column that Republicans have been the big losers in every fiscal showdown, and this one is no different.

“... How many times must we learn this lesson?” he asked.

The Pew Research Center said its poll taken the day before the current shutdown divides the blame — 39 percent said it would

be the Republicans’ fault and 36 percent said it would be Obama’s.

This shutdown is extremely bitter. Gingrich said Obama “refuses to behave like an American president. He refuses to deal with

the Congress as his equal, which it is in the Constitution.”

Obama complains that House Republicans

are “trying to mess with me” by passing a bill to cut off money for

Obamacare. However,

The Associated Press said “the president and Democrats have flung

out plenty of overheated rhetoric, referring to Republicans

as blackmailers, anarchists, extortionists and more.”

Actually, the real losers in this bitter and unnecessary squabble are the American people, who are not being well-served by

the men and women they have elected to national office. And, unfortunately, things are expected to get worse. The country

will reach its debt ceiling Oct. 17, another crisis that is waiting in the wings.

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Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or