Keep chipping away at federal budget, save shutdown showdown for higher stakes

The voters who flipped the U.S. House to Republicans last November didn’t spur an electoral wave just to see a series of piddling, two-weeks-at-a-time, a-billion-here-a-billion-there spending cuts.

Or did they?

The most recent “continuing resolution” to keep the federal government running expires next week. Back when it was approved, Democrats and Republicans, senators and House members, vowed to make it the final temporary fix. Instead, they would draft a budget to carry us through this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

But subsequent talks between House Republicans and Senate Democrats faltered, threatening to make the long-discussed “government shutdown” come to pass.

I think a shutdown of the federal government could be very useful as a clarifying moment: a time for Americans to see who’s serious about getting our fiscal affairs in order, and who’s digging in to protect a bloated status quo. A time to give a boost to those trying to put Washington’s spending spree not just on hold, but in reverse.

However, I don’t think this is that moment.

As refreshing as it’s been to witness a debate over how much to cut, rather than add, the difference between the sides is not really that great.

Sure, the $51 billion that House Republicans still want to cut out of fiscal 2011 spending is more than the $20 billion Senate Democrats have offered. But that $31 billion gap is, in the grand scheme of a $3.7 trillion budget — and $1.4 trillion budget deficit — minuscule.

It’s so minuscule that I have a hard time believing the American public will think it’s the kind of fight worthy of a government shutdown.

House Republicans say they have bigger cuts in store for next year’s budget, including changes to the entitlement programs that are eating away at our nation’s future.

Democrats are already crying like rats eating onions at the prospect of cutting more than $20 billion — about one-half of 1 percent of this year’s federal budget. The fight over much deeper cuts from next year’s budget is when the stakes will be high enough for a clarifying moment to occur.

In the meantime, this year’s $31 billion gap isn’t nothing. But if Democrats won’t cut it all at once, why wouldn’t Republicans keep taking it in nibbles?

Impatience, for starters. The virtue of the tea partyers and the people they elected to Congress is that they aren’t settling for business as usual in Washington. And that’s good.

But much good could come from making Senate Democrats defend the status quo every couple of weeks. We’ve already been through this exercise a few times, and the momentum for cuts hasn’t abated.

If anything, the constant push for cuts here and cuts there has made the reduction of spending seem routine and inevitable rather than difficult and harmful.

When House Republicans propose $3 billion in cuts for a two-week period, Senate Democrats know they can’t counter with zero — and that they can’t go to the mats to hold the cuts to $2 billion.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has already resorted to the hilarious spectacle of lamenting the fate of a cowboy poetry festival in his home state of Nevada. Wouldn’t it be fun to see what ridiculous example he or his colleagues would come up with next?

The public mood last November was for cutting spending to solve the deficit and put the kibosh on our ever-mounting debt. That hasn’t changed.

But there might be a backlash if the shutdown showdown comes down to cutting tens of billions when the problem is in the trillions. If Republicans take the serious step of shutting down the government, they better make sure they’re proposing serious cuts.

– By Kyle Wingfield

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62 comments Add your comment

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

March 30th, 2011
7:26 pm

MediaMatters has a staff of 90 putting this stuff out, Politico reports. “It’s horrible,” a MediaMatters employee told Fox’s “Red Eye” last month. “All we do is sit and watch Fox News and make up stuff about Fox News. It is the saddest place I have ever seen in my life. I think about it, and I want to throw up.

Believe me, normal people do puke when they hear Media Matters.



March 30th, 2011
7:47 pm

Bomb us? Really? Bomb US? Your fellow Americans? Hey….aren’t you the one that was banned from another AJC blog? What was it for? Vile and obnoxious statements like this one?

Kyle…is this acceptable discourse? Do we REALLY have to waste time reading this kind of vitriolic nonsense? Do you WANT people to read your blog or do you want it taken over by this kind of speech?

old timer

March 30th, 2011
8:06 pm

I really did vote to cause major…if not extreme…budget cuts. I wanted to see the end of the department of Education, all the czars gone, Public radio and TV, cuts in welfare for able-bodied people, among other things….

old timer

March 30th, 2011
8:07 pm

And Murph..You are right I report is a waste…just skip.

I Report (-: You Whine )-: Thee Magnificent!!! mmm, mmmm, mmmmm! Just sayin...

March 30th, 2011
8:13 pm

Hey, he stepped right up and accepted the little whiner label.

If the shoe fits, eh?


March 30th, 2011
8:36 pm

Death by a thousand cuts…then go for the jugular. Lay the dems out on a slab. Give ‘em a toe tag.

Metaphorically speaking of course. No violence intended.


March 30th, 2011
8:56 pm

Yeah, go ahead and shut down the government. I mean not like the short one last time. Mean it this time. You republicans and conservatives gut the federal government this time, put some teeth in it. You know, the troops with no fuel for vehicles, or bullets. No air traffic controllers, or any of the vital services from the federal government. Let chaos reign, see how you like the United States then. Republicans, you folks are really “sunshine patriots”, talk a good game. Come on, put up, or shut up!

Rafe Hollister

March 30th, 2011
9:11 pm

Kyle, I disagree. You remember Obama signing that pork loaded spending bill full of earmarks, when he first came into office. He said this was negiotiated and approved before I got here, so although I am against earmarks, I am going to sign it. He was wrong, but this signaled his reluctance to address spending and was our first indicator.

What you are suggesting, go ahead and pass on this little bit of money (30-40B) without a fight, so you can make a big fight out of larger cuts, makes no sense. As in the joke about the prostitute, you are just arguing price, you have already demonstrated what you are, i.e., not serious about cutting the budget.


March 30th, 2011
9:15 pm

Shut it down,time to cut some ball,s off,time to get rid of the politician,s slush fund,s for personal use.Go Tea Party.

I Know You Are But What Am I

March 30th, 2011
9:34 pm

Bait and switch. Pander to the conservative base, feign audacity when in fact your timidity betrays you. That’s a Republican.

And that, folks, is the best you’re going to get.


March 30th, 2011
9:55 pm

The republicans trying to cut $30-$40 billion out of the budget is a downright embarrassment. These scum were sent to DC with a mandate to get something deficit neutral at the minimum.

Throw all of them out…do it immediately!

Reasonable Fed

March 30th, 2011
10:22 pm

I strongly agree with the author of this article. I am a federal employee and I work very hard for my salary. I am a lawyer, so my peers in the private sector earn a little more than twice what I do. That said, I would be very upset if the government shut down and I did not get paid. My family depends on me. However, I will be far more upset if the government shuts down over 30b than if it shuts down over an amount of money that might make a difference. The problem is that fighting over 30b is political theater with real consequences to real people. If we are going to so negatively affect a group of people, we should at least do it for a cause that might better our situation.

Captain Chaos

March 30th, 2011
10:25 pm

And yet at the same time they whine and cry about how we NEED to cut spending, the Cons are INCREASING federal handouts to anti-abortion groups. And they are also against cutting farmer and corporate welfare.

The Republitards are going to save the country. Fat chance.

Kyle Wingfield

March 30th, 2011
10:48 pm

Rafe: go back and re-read the second half of the column, starting with “In the meantime…” My point is not that we should “pass on” the $31 billion, only that it’s fine to keep nibbling away and keep shutdown in reserve for the bigger cuts that better come in the FY12 budget.

Kyle Wingfield

March 30th, 2011
10:49 pm

For now, slow and steady wins the race.

get out much?

March 30th, 2011
11:17 pm

It will be interesting to see what people’s opinions are when they realize that spending cuts usually mean service cuts.

Georgia Voter

March 30th, 2011
11:21 pm

KW wrote, “The public mood last November was for cutting spending to solve the deficit and put the kibosh on our ever-mounting debt. ”


First of all, it’s seriously depressing that a guy who thinks that a federal government shutdown could be a “clarifying moment” is given space on the pages of a major metropolitan daily.

But on the quote I highlighted above, KW and the rest of big media seriously misread the election. Polls leading up to the election and polls since the election have consistently shown that the American people put creating jobs at the top of their list of priorities and and deficit reduction near the bottom.

Speaker John Boehner and associates complained about jobs before the election. But since the election, the only thing they’ve done about jobs is to pass a budget in the House that would throw hundreds of thousands out of work. When asked about this, Boehner replied, “So be it.”

On the deficit issue, since the election, despite all the nickel-and-diming, Republicans have done nothing about long-run deficits except to increase them by forcing an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and seek to increase it by repealing the health care law.

These people are not to be taken seriously. And if the GOP forces a shutdown, leading to fewer jobs and lower economic security, I’m afraid they’re going to have a nationwide Wisconsin on their hands. Many in the Republican caucus have made it clear that they want a shutdown. I just pray that the sanity caucus is bigger than the insanity caucus.

SF Fed Family

March 30th, 2011
11:51 pm

As a mother and wife of a Federal worker I’m torn. My beliefs are to have a government without defecit, but to shut down the governement would mean that my husband would not get paid and that would put a serious strain on us financially. He is an esential employee and is not allowed to quit his job to find another, nor is he allowed to consult/work anywhere else during this time, but he would be REQUIRED to continue to work and provide security to our Homeland. He is just one of over a few hundred agents in the Northern California SAC. If you take into account the entire US, just in the security of our Nation alone there would be tens of thousands of Federal employees going without pay. I think the Dems and Republicans need get off their high horses and get to work to come up with a solution. IMMEDIATELY.


March 31st, 2011
12:28 am

I didn’t vote to shut down the govrnment in November. I voted to create more jobs and get government working..


March 31st, 2011
6:50 am

Only a Democrat would call $60 billion out of $3.7 trillion a “draconian” cut.


March 31st, 2011
6:51 am

Eliminate the TSA. Let the Flyers Pay!! Stop all foreign aid. Cut 5% from all Federal Depts.for each of the next 5 years.


March 31st, 2011
7:01 am

All of this could be settled if the taxes reverted back to the way they were when Bush took office. It is irrational to think you can run the government with no funds. The 3% difference in the higher tax brackets (25 %to 28%, 38% to 31%, 36% to 39% is not unreasonable). Bush was told the tax cuts would cause a massive deficit by TWO of his Treasury Secretaries (he fired them), and did it anyway. Our economy–whether Republicans want to admit it or not–was at its most prosperous under that tax code. Employers do NOT hire and fire based on taxes. They hire and fire based on the demand for whatever product they produce. No demand. They cut back. Demand, they hire. This nonsense about tax cuts creating jobs that we hear from the likes of Hannity, Beck, Limbough (multimillionaire entertainers!) is just that. Nonsense. Kyle, please explain to your readers what would happen to the debt rating of this country should there be even a hint that this country does not stand behind it obligations. You think the debt service is bad now, wait until the bonds that the Treasury issues have yields that are 1-2 points higher than where they are right now. To put it in terms your readers might understand. Would you rather have a 3.87% mortgage or a 9% mortgage?


March 31st, 2011
7:58 am

It is clear that the election was a single event only leading to the next election. It is also clear that the elected Republicans are now more interested in posturing and winning the “culture war” than in putting the nation on food sound financial footing. Bush tax cuts only benefit the well off, the corporations (excuse me, the “individuals” with the last name “Incorporated”-a very large wealthy extended family) who then can fight the culture wars while the working population worries over getting a job or paying the mortgage/rent, etc.
We should immediately institute term limits-a max of twelve years to serve the American People. Each election cycle should see one third of our Congress RETIRING. They should get a small 401K contribution for their service and the right to buy health insurance until they are eligible for Medicare.
All this political theater is disgusting. If they shut down the Federal Government, they should lose their own pay checks, like the rest of the Federal employees.

Road Scholar

March 31st, 2011
8:03 am

“Democrats are already crying like rats eating onions …”

Really Kyle? Besides providing a discusting picture in my mind, I am surprised you can hear them crying over the whining the conservatives have been doing!

I have to agree with Deborah on this one. There are two variables in the equation.


March 31st, 2011
8:04 am

From 2000 to 2008 – no discussion about the deficit. Elect a Democratic candidate as president. Ooooh – now let’s all get worked up about the deficit. Until we elect a Republican. Then, ooooh – let’s not talk about the deficit. Let them eat cake. Kyle’s blog is for children.

I Know You Are But What Am I

March 31st, 2011
8:05 am

If a conservative is confronted with information derived from a liberal source, such as Media Matters or Huffington, they immediately disregard the data and tell us, “consider the source”.

And yet when a multi-millionaire radio talk show blowhard tells them that increasing taxes on the veritably rich are antithetical to economic prosperity, the same conservatives lap it up, not even considering that perhaps said blowhard benefits greatly PERSONALLY from the position he is taking.

Ever wonder why Boortz, Limbaugh, Hannity, Levine, Savage and their ilk spew their disinformation on increasing the tax burden of the wealthy? It’s called self-protection. Wake up conservatives.


March 31st, 2011
8:21 am

I’ts kind of like all those boxes down in my basement. I think we go ahead and shut it down for a couple months and then figure out what we didn’t miss.

The problem witha shut down is of course all the unions. Shutting down the government ends up being free paid vacation for all the employees so it ends up costing the tax payers more. I know I’d be praying for a shut down if I worked for them.


March 31st, 2011
8:27 am

I Know……Wake up liberal losers, you keep saying the GOP is beholden to the big corporations, GWAHAHAHA Ask GE how much taxes they paid on their 15 billion profit, could that number be ZERO, but that had nothing to do with the millions that they gave to the Obozo campaign…. Right libs?


March 31st, 2011
8:38 am

The number one goal of the Republicans is to serve their corporate masters anyway they can. You can be sure all this talk about cutting spending is just a smokescreen to cover giving corporations even more government welfare.


March 31st, 2011
8:41 am

Yes lets shut it all down. They can start by not paying the military and providing for their families and all the related contractors. Stop social security, medicare and medicaid. Stop the salaries of both Congressional houses and all the freebies they get. Stop all veteran services since most think they are beggars any way. We can stop all the collecting of federal taxes. We just shut it all down. That ought to get the attention of the dumb democrats.

Tyler Durden

March 31st, 2011
8:50 am

Hmmmm… the same folks who VOLUNTARILY drove us to War in Iraq with lies and claims of “patriotic duty” and subsequently saddled the country with a at least $2-3 trillion in unnecessary expenses, are now whining about spending….

Wow. You simply can’t make this stuff up :-)


March 31st, 2011
9:00 am

Tyler Durden

March 31st, 2011
8:50 am
You talking about the democrats right?

Buzz G

March 31st, 2011
9:04 am

Every good general picks his battles wisely.


March 31st, 2011
9:11 am

If the government did shut down, the progressivel liberals would lie to their plantation residents say it is the conservatives fault. Since most only get their information from the liberals these poorly informed people would believe them. That is the Ace in the hole the progressive liberals carry. I say shut it down. Be just like the liberals in Wisconsin and go to another state. There you can stay for 3 or 4 weeks and see if the liberals come up with a plan to cut spending.


March 31st, 2011
9:12 am

We need the Myth Busters to review tax levels
Conservatives constantly point to President Kennedy’s [proposal of] cutting capital gains taxes by 50%, they were at 90% back then; but it never happened.
They religiously bow before the false prophets that proclaim the President Reagan: cut taxes and increased military spending without raising the deficit. Do you remember the great simplification of taxes when the middle class gave [actually had taken] away interest of all loans except home mortgages while corporate America gave up their form of welfare? Well guess what, they still have our contribution but now corporations not only pay no taxes, nor royalties, they even get a fat rebate check every year. Reagan also holds the all time record for tax increases; besides going back on income taxes he quintupled the annual max Social Security contribution [which is probably why the GOP claims it is not a tax].
Do you remember Governor Bush campaigning with this three dollar bills? That was the projected surplus, he gave one to tax cuts, one to defense, and had one left over to pay down the deficit. Do you remember his first State of the Union address? Money for Star Wars, big tax cuts to stimulate the economy; everything will be just fine as long as the Republican Congress would just follow his budget and not pork up every piece of legislation that passed. He kept the only part of his campaign promise made to the American people, despite the economy already contracting; he gave a dollar to defense, gave a dollar to tax cuts, but had to increase borrowing to fund the basic functions of the federal government.
Well guess what happened next, to fund his Education plan, his giveaway to seniors, big water/transportation/farm bills; he went to see a man in China. Then for seven straight years he produced plans to reduce the annual deficit in half well after he was out of office.
And now congress is run by people too stupid to accept the plain truth and unwilling to, as Sarah likes to say, “Man Up,” and admit that we need to undo everything that President W brought to our budget so that in twenty years we might be back to where we were when a butterfly ballot in Florida brought him to power.


March 31st, 2011
9:18 am

Darwin: That’s total bull, but typical revision from a leftie. Go back to when Medicare Part D was passed, and you’ll see a LOT of conservatives and libertarians upset and being vocal about it. Go back to the budget every year, and you’ll see the same thing. Go back to when Bush tried to reform social security, and was supported by the right because it was a step towards solving our budget issues, but the left blocked that.

The difference now? Obama sin’t even paying lip service towards fixing our fiscal house. At least Bush appeared to care, even if he didn’t do much about it. All y’all complaining about how the GOP isn’t serious… At least they are talking about, whereas the Dems seem to have to no interest in fixing anything, they just want to raise taxes and make more people dependent on the government, allowing the Dems to buy more votes.


March 31st, 2011
9:22 am

The threatened government “shut down” does not include the Department of Homeland Stupidity nor the IRS.Until those snoops,spies,gropers,and busybodies are included, then the threat is not a shutdown………………..merely blackmail.

The Congress should be dealt with accordingly in a court of law and/or the election booth.

Ron Paul 2012.


March 31st, 2011
9:32 am

Kyle, congrats. You made it through a column on the budget battle without mentioning the President.

As the Constitution plainly states, it is Congress who passes budgets. It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to present a budget to the President to sign, veto or ignore. The President has a statutory responsibility to present a proposed budget to Congress, but it is Congress who makes the decision on the budget.

If Congress wants to pass a daily CR, that is OK with me. If they want to finish 2011 with just one more vote, that is OK. But it is their job.

Our friend “I Report” likes to talk about “whiners”. And there are a lot of them around. I have been keeping an informal count and to date the biggest whiners in DC are the Senate Democrats and the House “Tea Party” Republicans. And it is a neck and neck race between those two.

Since FDR Congress has abdicated its Constitutional responsibility to the White House on matters of taxing and spending. After almost 80 years it is way past time for Congress to retake control of taxing and spending by the Federal government.

Do they have the courage to do so?


March 31st, 2011
9:42 am

Well thought out column.

I agree with Kyle and
Buzz G
9:04 am
Now is not the optimum time…


March 31st, 2011
9:51 am

Dearie – “every good general picks his battles wisely”

Unless our enemies pick them for us. Or have you never heard of Pearl Harbor and 9/11?


March 31st, 2011
10:00 am

lets just shut the whole thing down until early Nov 2012 so we can elect a new leader and a congress that will actually cut the darn budget like it needs to be cut…25% or more across the board.


March 31st, 2011
10:02 am

carlosgvv, are you on drugs, Obozo is OWNED by corporate America…

“Jeffrey Immelt, the head of GE, is facing backlash from left-leaning groups who say that he shouldn’t be on the White House Jobs Council or any other panel in light of reports that the company last year made $14.2 billion in profit, paid zero in corporate federal taxes and actually received a $3.2 billion tax benefit.”

So who is owned by the corporations?


March 31st, 2011
10:03 am


Where have you been the last few years? Democrats have been trying to do away with all the corporate tax loopholes for years. It’s Republicans who have been fighting to keep all the loopholes. Now we hear one corporation, GE, who supported a Democrat and Republicans are screaming. Turn your screaming to Republican legislators and force them to do away with all the corporate tax loopholes.


March 31st, 2011
10:07 am

House Republicans say they have bigger cuts in store for next year’s budget, including changes to the entitlement programs that are eating away at our nation’s future.

And among these targets are Social Security, a program funded by taxes withheld from workers’ wages. Congress has spent every penny of these taxes every year for decades, in essence dipping into the penny bank to fund tax cuts, defense, and a lot of other expenditures. And now that it’s time to start repaying those borrowings, everybody seems to be screaming to “cut Social Security.” It’s like a guy who’s used payroll taxes to help make the down payment on his mega-mansion. Now that it’s time to submit those withheld taxes to the federal government, the cry is to victimize the persons providing the funds. How low-down can you get? I and a lot of people I know will need to live 13 years after my full retirement just to break even on the taxes we and our employers paid into SS.

Stop this dishonesty. Stop the vote-buying through such measures as a Medicare Part D that everybody knew wouldn’t pay for itself. It was a cynical attempt of a Republican Congress to earn the votes of seniors. And stop the attacks on Social Security, which is fully funded through 2032 and could be fully funded perpetually with a few minor tweaks in the taxation. Repay the debts that callous people incurred in efforts to win reelection. And stop this business of bloating the Department of Defense with needless expenditures for duplicate jet engines that even the DoD didn’t want. Not everything is about bringing home the bacon to your district, Mr. Congressman.


March 31st, 2011
10:08 am

get us the hell out of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya for starters. leave income taxes where they are for right now. cut corporate taxes, which will “create jobs” (I hate that term) and lower prices. then we can worry about eliminating waste like Social Security/welfare.


March 31st, 2011
10:15 am

Keep up the yammering Tea Party crazies!

The American public is on to you phonies. Only 32% of Americans have a favorable view of the Tea Party now. 47% unfavorable. The Party is over.

Go ahead and shut down the government then watch yourselves get hammered in 2012.


March 31st, 2011
10:16 am


You’re wrong about Social Security…at least according to potential Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. According to him, a good bit of the problem is caused by abortion. I wonder how he figures a third of all young people IN America and NOT IN America due to abortion. Here’s what he had to say about it.

“The Social Security system, in my opinion, is a flawed design, period. But having said that, the design would work a lot better if we had stable demographic trends. We don’t have enough workers to support the retirees. Well, a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion.”


March 31st, 2011
10:23 am

findog, I guess you and carlosgvv need to get you information from other places than just the and CNN, looks like the democrats are the ones owned by the big corporations…


March 31st, 2011
10:27 am

Let’s actually have the discussion about the real budget which is Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and national defense spending…the only way to address interest on the debt is to lower the debt. Unfortunately we are talking only about the discretionary budget which if lowered to zero would still leave deficits. Both parties are throwing up smoke screens in front of the 2012 elections….the Dems are waiting to blame the Repubs for gutting social programs without considering national defense dollars and the Repubs are anxious to blame Dems for maintaining the status quo which at best leaves the budget with a $1T deficit in any year for the next ten years. I don’t think any real attempt for adjust entitlements will happen until after the presidential elections. New Midwestern Republican governors and Rick Scott in Florida have shown their cards too early and combined with the lackluster candidates on the Republican side thus far put the Repubs on the defensive in spite of a continuation of Bush foreign policy and monetary policy by Obama in addition to the paranoia from the birther crowd


March 31st, 2011
10:30 am


Totally agreed…now with the President actually make Congress declare war before we engage in “kinetic military action”….now that would be an event to bring lots of popcorn to given the current fiscal climate