Irresistible forces, immovable objects

IRRESISTIBLE FORCES, IMMOVABLE OBJECTS…. Following up on yesterday’s item, it’s worth considering in more detail exactly what a member of the House Republican leadership said yesterday about GOP plans to shut down the government next year.

Right around the time President Obama was presenting his vision for the economy at a White House press conference, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), the vice chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, spoke to disgraced lobbyist Ralph Reed’s right-wing confab, and offered a vision of his own.

If Republicans take back the House, Westmoreland said, they would use their new majority to force a budget battle akin to the fight staged by former Speaker Newt Gingrich with President Clinton and shut down the federal government. Westmoreland cautioned that he was fully aware that such a move would close down hospitals for veterans and shut down National Parks. But, Westmoreland argued that taking down the government is worth “the pain” because health reform and government programs are like a “gangrene” that “need to be cleaned out.”

Westmoreland wasn’t characterizing a shutdown as some kind of drastic step he hopes to avoid; he was describing a shutdown as something he’s actively looking forward to. Indeed, as far as Westmoreland is concerned, a shutdown would be a good thing. Mixing metaphors, he specifically told his receptive audience: “There’s going to have to be some pain for us to do some things that we’ve got to do to right the ship.”

And remember, when Westmoreland brought up the last GOP government shutdown, urging right-wing activists to stand with Republicans the next time, the assembled far-right activists applauded. The right, in other words, is already looking forward to this.

DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen released a statement late yesterday, explaining, “The Republicans’ plan to shut down the government would mean than millions of seniors wouldn’t get their Social Security checks or Medicare coverage and America’s veterans wouldn’t get the benefits they earned. While American troops are in harms’ way, it is outrageous that Republican leaders would even consider shutting down the government.”

By last night, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer had an item on the WH blog, noting that Westmoreland is only one of many prominent Republicans pushing the notion of a shutdown. “While the President is offering a vision about how to move the country forward and help middle class Americans and small business owners,” Pfeiffer said, “Republicans in Congress are busy telling partisans and Republican party activists to get prepared for the same stalemate and gridlock they brought the last time they were in charge.”

I mention this for two reasons. The first is that the mainstream American electorate probably has no idea just how radical the Republican agenda would be next year. By one credible estimate, the GOP now has about a two-in-three chance of claiming a House majority, and it’s very likely that much of the country will ask themselves, in early 2011, “Wait, we voted for what?”

The second is that the debate over who’ll be blamed for a shutdown is practically over before it starts. There was talk in some circles that the Republicans might force presidential vetoes and say it’s Obama, not the GOP, who shutdown the government. That strategy appears to have been abandoned altogether — now both sides already agree that it’s Republicans who are actively promising and looking forward to shutting down the federal government, regardless of the circumstances.

Yesterday, Westmoreland seemed to take pride in the very idea. That’s not reluctance about a scenario leaders should want to avoid, it’s fanaticism about a disaster in the making.