[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
As I write this, we are hours away from a government shutdown, as, for the time being, the Democrats and the president have failed to cave in to the far-right, potentially catastrophic budget demands of the Tea Party-owned Republicans on Capitol Hill. (And if you think I'm being unfair in categorizing the GOP, I'm not. John Boehner said there is "no daylight" between him and the Tea Party on the budget.)
A government shutdown could be damaging to the country. And yet, my message to the Democrats is simple and straight-forward: Hold the line, and do not fold. The Republican budget, not just the massive cuts (which would disproportionally impact the poor, working class and middle class), but the ideologically-driven, far-right agenda embedded in it, is completely unacceptable. As bad as a shutdown would be, allowing the Republicans to win would be far worse for the country.
There are two main reasons why I think this is a worthy battle for the Democrats to fight, one political and one substantive.
Politically, it is unreasonable for the Republicans, who control only one of the three institutions that have to agree to any deal (barring a veto override), to dictate the terms of the budget. In 2009 the Democrats controlled the White House, the Senate (eventually with 60 votes) and the House, and yet the Republicans fought tooth and nail, deploying every delay tactic at their disposal, to prevent the Democrats from enacting any legislation, even though the Democrats' legislative plan closely followed the proposals President Obama laid out as a candidate.
The Democrats need to equal the Republicans' resolve. If the Democrats didn't have a mandate in 2009 (according to the Republicans, anyway), then the Republicans certainly don't have one now. There is no political reason to cave in to the GOP/Tea Party, especially as two new polls find that Americans would blame the Tea Party for a shutdown, and another reveals that Americans would blame the Republicans in Congress more than the Democrats or the president.
As important as the political aspect of the budget battle is, it is even more vital that the Democrats prevent the substance of the Republicans' budget proposals from making it into the final legislation. Certainly, the Democrats may have no choice but to accept some spending reductions in the final budget. But there are two key points on which the Democrats have to hold the line: First, they have to ensure that important programs that serve the poor, working class and middle class are spared. With unemployment still high (caused by a near financial system collapse), and with the Bush tax cuts for the rich in place, it is patently immoral to address the federal budget deficit solely on the backs of the middle and lower classes, while allowing the wealthy, the only group to prosper financially in the 2000s, to take on none of the burden.
Second, the Democrats have to prevent the Republicans from using the false hysteria over debt and deficits to push through the laundry list of traditional far-right items the GOP budget contains (e.g. attacks on abortion, Planned Parenthood, NPR, etc.). (And make no mistake, the hysteria is false. If Republicans were truly concerned with the deficit, the party wouldn't have insisted on the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, which will cost the country more revenue than the amount of the spending cuts in the Republican budget proposal.)
The Republican budget, the brainchild of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), seeks, essentially, to do two things: Benefit the top one percent of earners in the country at the expense of everyone else, and turn the country back to 1929, with little or no protection for working Americans and a free hand to the wealthy and corporations to do what they please. (I've written before about Ryan's propensity to use wholly false numbers when pushing his draconian budget proposals.)
If Ryan's plan had a sound basis, at least there could be a rational discussion as to whether it would be worth the catastrophic cuts for long-term security. But as Ryan based his economic growth projections on numbers from the far-right Heritage Foundation, the benefits he touts are pure fantasy. Paul Krugman simply and clearly explains how Ryan's numbers on unemployment, Medicaid and government spending are complete works of fiction (or as Krugman puts it, depend "an awful lot on unicorn sightings").
So what do we get for buying into Ryan's work of fiction? Essentially, the conservative wish list dating back to 1929: Defunding the new health care law, cuts to Medicare and Medicaid (even the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that costs would significantly increase for senior citizens and the poor), cuts in education (including Pell grants), deep spending cuts on programs that benefit the poor, working class and middle class (like Head Start), cuts to consumer and environmental protection, cuts to veteran benefits (unthinkably immoral given the way the military has been stretched and abused in two wars over the last decade) and lower taxes for the wealthy and corporations, along with a culture war wish list of defunding NPR and Planned Parenthood, looking to limit environmental and consumer protection, and attacking abortion (like by redefining rape and authorizing IRS audits of abortions).
This budget is just the first step. Republicans want to repeal last year's financial regulation law, Dodd-Frank (which, to me, is unbelievable in light of the 2008 near financial collapse, but, again, we're talking about right-wing wish lists here, not anything with a basis in what is best for most Americans). And it's not just financial regulation. Rand Paul said that mining regulation is too expensive for companies (again, unthinkable in light of all the miner-related incidents in the last year).
The Republicans are pushing a far-right, Tea Party agenda. And we've seen in the last month how unpopular such an extreme approach was in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida.
In short, the policies pushed by the current crop of Tea Party-owned Republicans seek to benefit the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else. They want to push traditional conservative policies on taxation and regulation that led to a near financial collapse and a deep recession just two and a half years ago (not to mention income and wealth disparities that haven't been this bad since the 1920s), they want to attach culture war social policies that a majority of Americans oppose to the budget, and they are willing to shut down the government to get what they want.
So with those stakes at hand, the Democrats have only one choice: Hold the line and don't let the Republican budget proposals, which would be so damaging to so many Americans, become law. A government shutdown would be awful. Letting the Republicans harm the country would be worse.