Washington D.C. Legislative Update: Voices of the Government Shutdown

October was a month to remember on Capitol Hill for both great angst and wondrous appreciation.

Self Expression. The government shutdown that ended in October stirred deep emotions across the political spectrum. That the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA)—also known as “Obamacare”—was at the heart of the shutdown only inflamed those passions. Instead of rehashing the well-documented facts of the shutdown, we will use the words of those involved to capture the essence of what all sides believed the battle was about.

Most of the voices will be from Florida and the Super Region, though a few from outside the area will be called upon to help paint as full a picture as possible. Reflecting the era, many of these quotes come directly from the lawmakers’ Twitter accounts.

“We should not pass a short term budget unless it defunds #Obamacare.”—Sen. Marco Rubio (R) on July 11, in his first tweet explicitly tying an ACA funding cut-off to the short-term funding and the debt ceiling legislation. Between then and the end of July, Rubio tweeted 30 attacks on the ACA, most of them about defunding. Several were in concert with Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, the other leaders of the defunding movement.

“#ObamaCare is bad for both #FL06 families and job creators—please RT if you agree,” Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, also on July 11.

”President #Obama is giving business a break in @Obamacare, but not you. RT if you agree we deserve #FairnessForAll.”—Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Gainesville, on July 17, attacking the administration’s decision to postpone the mandate that employers provide health insurance to full-time employees without also delaying the mandate that all individuals have insurance.

“Listen, as long as Barack Obama is president, the Affordable Care Act is gonna be law. Defunding the Affordable Care Act through shutting down the federal government is not achievable.”—Arch-conservative Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., on July 26, as the defund Obamacare movement gained momentum.

(For most of Congress’ August recess, veteran D.C. prognosticators believed the effort to defund the ACA would be a rallying cry for the GOP base but that Congress would find a way to keep the government open. Soon after Labor Day, though, the mood began to change.)

“Good news for hard working Americans. House will vote on short-term budget that avoids shutdown but will also #defundobamacare.”—Rubio’s tweet of Sept. 18, two days before the pivotal House vote on government funding.

“Starting now—House GOP holds rally following vote to protect all Americans from #Obamacare. #SenateMustAct.”—House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on his official Twitter account Sept. 20, the day the House voted to pass a continuing appropriations resolution (CR) that stripped ACA funding.

“Proud to vote today with my House GOP colleagues to keep the government open while ending funding for this harmful law!—DeSantis’ tweet the same day.

(Though the House would vote on additional, largely symbolic variations of the CR in the ensuing days, it was the Sept. 20 vote that signaled a government shutdown was inevitable. The measure passed the House along almost straight-party lines, 230-189, with every Super Region Republican voting for it and every Super Region Democrat voting against it.)

“During the government shutdown, I have asked to have my pay withheld.”—Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, in an Oct. 1 tweet, the day the shutdown began.

“On this day #POTUS help (sic) move the country FORWARD with open enrollment for #ACA and #GOP moved country BACKWARDS by creating the #GOPShutdown.”—Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, also on the first day of the shutdown.

(After the shutdown began, the House passed bills refunding parts of the government in an effort to force the president and the Senate to the negotiating table. Facing an Oct. 17 deadline to increase the federal debt limit or face even more draconian funding restrictions, some GOP House members began to press for negotiations while also trying to downplay the significance of the debt ceiling.)

“Open dialogue critical to any negotiation. Partisan blame-game will not turn on a single light or put a single American back to work #shutdown.”—Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, in a tweet on the second day of the shutdown.

“It is a fact that hitting the debt ceiling does not automatically trigger a default. Our nation would default only by not being able to service our debt. Contrary to the naysayers, the U.S. Treasury takes in enough money to service our debt. After that, it is all about prioritization of spending—something that should have been done long ago.”—Yoho in an Oct. 10 USA Today guest editorial.

“Thanks to all who took my survey on the govt shutdown last week. I agree—both sides need to negotiate.”—Rooney’s tweet of Oct. 15, the day before the crisis ended.

(Ultimately, the majority in Congress was not as sanguine as Yoho about what would happen on Oct. 17. Senate leaders from both sides of the aisle brokered a deal to end the shutdown.)

“The government will open tonight but the real crisis remains. Congress did nothing to address our real problems.”—Rubio’s tweet on Oct. 16 after he voted against the compromise to reopen the government. The CR passed the Senate anyway, 81-18.

“Our children and their children deserve to inherit a country whose reputation is untarnished for meeting its obligations.”—Buchanan, also on Oct. 16, explaining via Twitter why he was one of three Super Region Republicans to vote for the CR. The House passed the Senate version of the CR, 285-144.

“Looking forward to Congress tackling immigration post-shutdown as the economy will need a boost!”—Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, in one of the few forward-looking tweets on the night shutdown ended.

“Voted last night to reopen government, maintain historic spending cuts and remove threat of default.”—Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Winter Garden, in one of the other upbeat tweets Oct. 16.

“We fought the good fight, but we lost.”—Boehner, in a Cincinnati radio interview that same afternoon, signaling he would urge his GOP colleagues to vote for the Senate compromise that would re-open the government.

“There’s no education in the second kick of the mule.”—Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., when asked if the Republicans would try to shut down the government again.

“No.”—President Obama, when asked if he anticipated a second shutdown.

(For the record, the CR funds the government through Jan. 15, 2014, and suspends the debt ceiling until Feb. 7. Stay tuned.)

Reflections on Bill Young. An excellent appreciation of the life and accomplishments of the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, R-Indian Shores, can be found here. Here, we offer a telling story about the extent of the power Young possessed and the way he wielded it at the height of his congressional career.

One day in early 2000, a Democratic congressman who served on the House Appropriations Committee was meeting with a trade association that represented a sizable employer in his district. His chief of staff was in the meeting and, after about 15 minutes, she looked at her watch and said in a voice approaching reverence, “We’re going to need to leave in 10 minutes. We have a meeting with Mr. Young.”

There wasn’t any question in the lobbyists’ minds about who “Mr. Young” was, nor was there any surprise at the reverence he was accorded by a member of the opposing party. As chairman of the Appropriations Committee, he was an old-school legislator who believed in earmarks, was unapologetic about the occasional need for deficit spending or for using the appropriators’ power to further political as well as policy goals and—as he hinted in the retirement announcement made a week before his death—a believer in according respect to everyone elected to the U.S. House, regardless of party.

Ironically, he also became chairman of the Appropriations Committee at more or less the exact moment the federal budget began showing surpluses for the first time in three decades. It was a signature achievement of the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and a rare triumph of bipartisan relations with the Clinton White House.

The goal of budget surpluses would evaporate less than two years later, but at that moment the Democratic congressman in question knew the pressure “Mr. Young” was under from his party’s leadership. The congressman knew he would get a fair, even sympathetic hearing from the chairman, but he also knew his case had to be airtight and have a minimal impact on the overall budget surplus. Honoring Young and his way of doing business came first, and everything else, including the large employer in the congressman’s district, was going to come second.

That’s how you define power and respect on Capitol Hill.

WRRDA. Not everything in Congress is contentious these days. In late October, the House passed H.R. 3080, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2013 by an overwhelming margin, 417-3.

House leaders touted the legislation as a sign that bipartisanship still lives on Capitol Hill, and Super Region legislators praised the move.

“Crucial investment in FL’s future economy and environment passed the House just now,” Webster wrote in a tweet moments after the Oct. 23 vote. Earlier in the evening, Webster alerted his followers to watch his comments during House debate. Webster is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that initially passed the bill.

WRRDA authorizes 23 water projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and also de-authorizes $12 billion worth of old projects. The legislation also reaffirms that Congress should pass a new WRRDA every two years.

Every Super Region lawmaker voted for the bill except Castor, who did not cast a vote.

A separate water resource bill passed the Senate in May, 83-14. Sen. Bill Nelson (D) supported the measure while Rubio opposed it. It was unclear when the magazine went to print whether the Senate would consider the House version of the bill or ask for a conference to resolve differences between its measure and H.R. 3080.