If a shutdown comes, some conservatives said, it could seriously damage their political momentum. But, after winning an election on a no-compromise pledge, they saw nothing else they could do.
“I don’t want a shutdown,” said Rep. Tim Griffin (Ark.), one of 87 Republican freshmen, saying he thought Democratic leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) were trying to make it happen.
So why not accept the kind of compromise Democrats have talked about? That would avert a shutdown and let Republicans move on to other, more ambitious efforts to slash the budget.
Griffin said he couldn’t.
“They want to go to $33 [billion]” in cuts, Griffin said. “It’s like canceling HBO when you can’t afford your house payments. It’s not serious.”
These sentiments provide a window into an issue that has helped keep Congress from reaching agreement on the fiscal 2011 budget, even with a possible shutdown just days away. The strongest conservatives — including many freshmen — have promised to never compromise on their beliefs and to achieve historic changes in government spending.
Now, the first aim may be sabotaging the second.
“There are many Republicans that feel that they gave their word to their constituents that they wouldn’t back down,” which keeps them from agreeing to a deal in this fight, said Rep. Michael G. Grimm (R-N.Y.), another freshman. Grimm said they should seek a compromise on a continuing resolution for this year’s budget and move on to what’s sure to be a larger fight over the 2012 budget.
Other Republicans have expressed similar sentiments. It may be, then, that a compromise could be reached without the support of the most aggressive budget-cutters.
“We have to keep our eye on the ball,” Grimm said. “We were sent here to really start bringing solutions to the problem. The CR [continuing resolution] can’t do that.”
‘Shut it down!’
For weeks, as a shutdown has loomed, a bloc of House conservatives has urged GOP leaders to resist calls for compromise. The same message has gone out over conservative talk radio and through tea party groups.
On Wednesday, at least one of them was as defiant as ever.
“If liberals in the Senate would rather play political games and force a government shutdown, instead of accepting a modest down payment on fiscal discipline and reform, I say, ‘Shut it down!’ ” yelled Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) at a tea party rally at the Capitol.
But other conservatives seemed to acknowledge that a shutdown could hand Democrats a much-needed victory.
Even as activists at the tea party rally chanted “Shut it down!,” Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) appeared to be doing damage control.
“There is no such thing as an actual government shutdown. We know that Social Security checks will continue to go out, the military will continue to go forward,” she said. The executive branch says the U.S. military would continue operations during a shutdown but service members would not be paid.