In 1995, the federal government shut down because President Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress were not able to agree on a budget. With Republicans set to take back over the House in 2011, history could be repeating itself.
Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, refused to take a federal government shutdown off the table Sunday and said that President Barack Obama shares responsibility in running the government.
"The chief executive, the president, is as responsible as any in terms of running this government," Cantor told Fox News' Chris Wallace. "The president has a responsibility, as much or more so than Congress, to make sure that we are continuing to function in a way that the people want."
A “shutdown” occurs when Congress fails to appropriate money to fund the federal agencies. As a result, nearly every federal employee is sent home, including the officials who cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid checks. In other words, by threatening a shutdown, Cantor is holding the incomes of millions of American seniors hostage unless Obama complies with his petty demands.
After Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) engaged in a game of chicken with Clinton. The president refused to approve a budget with deep cuts and Gingrich refused raise the debt ceiling. During times of deficit spending, the debt ceiling must be raised to keep the government from going into default.
The standoff resulted in the federal government being shut down from November 14 through November 19, 1995 and from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996. The public decided that Republicans had overplayed their hand and Clinton enjoyed his highest approval ratings since being elected.
Full transcript below the fold.
WALLACE: Alright, you say you want to make tough decisions. In your statement this week, in your governing document, you said you want to see a moratorium on earmarks. Why not make a tough decision and say earmarks dead, forever?
CANTOR: Well it is essentially a suspension for the entire Congress, this is what we're saying and I believe that that is necessary because earmarks are a symptom of a culture gone bad here in Washington and if we're unable to make the decisions on these things like earmarks we are certainly not going to have the credibility to make the big decisions on the kinds of cuts you're talking about or the ability for us to address entitlements.
WALLACE: You're also going to face a vote at least by May on whether or not to raise the debt ceiling for this country. And Republicans are currently planning to demand even further spending cuts from the president in return for raising the debt ceiling. If he refuses does that mean that you're willing to let this country go into default?
CANTOR: Look Chris, you know, a vote on either side of the issue of debt limit ceilings increase has serious consequences, okay? Before we even get to that vote we're going to have at least three or four months to demonstrate that this is going to be a cost cutting Congress. We're going to get spending under control. We cannot sit here and continue the path that we've been on for the last twenty months and beyond continuing to spend money don't have. So our job will hopefully be about, for the next three to four months is to make sure that we do demonstrate our commitment to fiscal discipline which has been sorely lacking here of late.
WALLACE: Fair enough, but I think it's fair to say that the last time that Republicans took control of Congress was in 1995, the Gingrich Congress, they got in trouble by over-stepping and they got – and you can argue who caused it – but the result was a government shutdown and Republicans got blamed. So let me ask you, because some people would say that's – that would be a way for the Obama White House to show that you guys are too extreme. Are you willing to say right now we’re not going to let the country go into default, and we won’t allow a government shutdown?
CANTOR: Look Chris, well look at this now. The chief executive, the president, is as responsible as any in terms of running this government. The president's got a responsibility, as much or more so than Congress, to make sure that we are continuing to function in a way that the people want.
So instead of saying this is going to be a Congressional test one way or the other. I look at this and say look, this president has certainly seen his own words a shellacking by the voters. They're looking at him to try and come to the middle and set aside this extreme agenda that he's been about that has killed jobs and created the most uncertainty that businesses can even remember.
It is time for him to try and come meet us and say fine, let's get back to the kind of things that Americans are about; that is living within our means, it is making the tough decisions so that we can see America prosper and lead again.
WALLACE: So you're saying, to flip it around if there were to be a default on the debt or a government shutdown it's his responsibility not yours?
CANTOR: Well what I would say Chris is it's as much of his responsibility, in fact he is the one who sets the agenda as the chief executive and as the president of this country. Congressional role is to look to and account for expenditures that have been made and make sure that his administration is following through on the mission and the will of the people. And right now what people are asking us to do is to make sure that his administration through the bureaucracy is doing that which they were unable to do in the legislative body in Congress.