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Gingrich: If it comes to a shutdown, the GOP should stick to its principles

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is considering a run for president in 2012.

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This point deserves reiteration. It was President Bill Clinton's veto of our budget in December 1995 that closed the government. The White House knew that it could use the power of the presidency and the support of liberal media to blame us.

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So, we faced a choice. We could cave in and be accepted by the Washington establishment, or we could stand firm for a balanced budget for the American people.

We decided to stick to our principles through a very contentious and difficult period. Our attempt to balance the federal budget was distorted in the news media as an effort to ruin family vacations, frustrate visitors to the nation's capital and prevent government employees from going to work. For the Republican leadership, the effort to hold together the House and Senate caucuses while negotiating with the White House became extraordinarily exhausting.

Nonetheless, the ultimate result was the first four consecutive balanced budgets since the 1920s, paying off more than $450 billion in federal debt. We also overhauled welfare - the most successful and popular entitlement reform of our lifetime - strengthened Medicare and enacted the first tax cut in 16 years. It was this tax cut that boosted economic growth and allowed us to balance the budget four years earlier than projected. During my years as speaker, more than 8.4 million new jobs were created, reducing the national unemployment rate from 5.6 percent to 4.3 percent.

Those who claim that the shutdown was politically disastrous for Republicans ignore the fact that our House seat losses in 1996 were in the single digits. Moreover, it was the first time in 68 years that Republicans were reelected to a House majority - and the first time that had ever happened with a Democrat winning the presidency.

Neither these historic achievements nor this historic win would have been possible had Republicans not stood firm and showed the country that we were serious about keeping our commitments.

The lesson for today's House Republicans is simple: Work to keep the government open, unless it requires breaking your word to the American people and giving up your principles. Becoming one more promise-breaking, Washington-dominated, sellout group is a much worse fate - politically and ethically - than having the government close for a few days.

House Republicans should give President Obama the opportunity to sign significant spending reductions and keep the government open, or to veto their cuts and close the government. Similarly, they should give Senate Democrats a chance to accept real spending reductions or make clear that it is their stubborn liberalism that is closing the government.

Another shutdown of the federal government is not an ideal result, but for House Republicans, breaking their word would be far worse.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and chairman of American Solutions for Winning the Future.

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