As we approach the midterm elections, Democrats are naturally trying to frighten Americans into believing that the GOP could shut down the government again. What isn't natural is that the media is helping them do it.
The October shutdown was a political disaster for the GOP, as you can see from this graph from RealClearPolitics of the generic Congressional ballot:
See that spot when support for the Democrats shot up? That's the government shutdown. No wonder Democrats don't want Americans to forget about it. But some reporters seem to have bought into the party's campaign rhetoric.
On Tuesday night, the Huffington Post published an article with the headline: “Marco Rubio Hints At A Government Shutdown Fight Over Immigration.” The problem is that Rubio, who was quoted from an interview with Breitbart, doesn’t come close to mentioning a government shutdown. Here’s what he said: "There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a continuing resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this. I'm interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue." That’s not hinting at a government shutdown. It’s Rubio saying he wants to use the budget process to put pressure on the Democrats to vote on Obama’s controversial immigration policies.
A week ago, a quote from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell stirred up a similar reaction, with Politico using the headline, "McConnell’s plan to shut down Obama.” As with Rubio’s comments this week, McConnell’s didn’t approach a “plan” to shut down the government. “We’re going to pass spending bills,” he said, “and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.” At Bloomberg View, Jonathan Bernstein explained the absurdity of Politico’s headline:
McConnell, at least according to his quotes in Politico, doesn't imply a take-it-or-leave-it shutdown threat. It’s just as likely he intends to push Republican issues as far as he can take them, and then hold Obama and the Democrats responsible for whatever they oppose — and force vetoes to generate publicity over their differences.
It’s totally fair game for Democrats to remind voters of last year’s government shutdown. Just this week, the Democrats are launching a website to do just as that (as the Huffington Post reported). The shutdown hurt the economy and accomplished nothing for the Republican Party. The same right-wing politicians that crafted that strategy (mainly senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee) are still in Washington. Early next year, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again—and a default is much larger threat to the economy than a government shutdown. Democrats should want voters thinking about that when they head to the ballot box.
But there is no excuse for the news media to inflate the quotes of Republican politicians to make it seem that they are threatening to shut down the government again. In fact, many of the GOP’s leaders have publicly stated that Cruz’s plan was a mistake, including McConnell. Maybe after November, conservatives will force McConnell to backtrack on that statement and initiate another shutdown. But that’s not what he or Rubio are saying right now.
Danny Vinik is a staff writer at The New Republic.