Gingrich has been there, done that. He led Republicans in the 1995 and 1996 partial shutdowns in a showdown with President Bill Clinton, a standoff that ultimately resulted in a balanced budget deal. But in a Financial Times opinion piece, Gingrich says it seems almost no one in the media remembers the previous shutdowns or the historical context for them.
“You might be amazed to learn that Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill presided over 12, yes 12, government shutdowns,” Gingrich writes. “The O’Neill shutdowns occurred in dealing with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, and even while Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. I was in Congress during most of these shutdowns, as well. No one in the O’Neill era saw shutdowns as catastrophic. They were irritating, complicated and frustrating, but also part of the legislative process.”
Gingrich, the former history professor at West Georgia College (now University of West Georgia), contends that America’s founding fathers “wanted tension between the legislative and executive branches.” He said they rejected the British parliamentary system “as prone to dominance by the king. They divided power to protect liberty.”
Gingrich faults the media for failing history. The media, he says, cover “daily events with no sense of context,” he said. “It cannot place John Boehner, the current speaker, within the context of Speaker O’Neill’s 12 government shutdowns because it has never heard of them and does not want to. It certainly cannot place tension between the president and the House within the context of Runnymede and the Magna Carta.”
Of the House Republicans, Gingrich said they “feel obliged to oppose Obamacare” because they won the 2010 and 2012 House elections by opposing Obamacare, and the 2012 elections showed Americans were deeply divided. “In a divided government, both sides have an obligation to negotiate,” Gingrich argues. “Until Mr. Obama realizes that and acts accordingly, the House Republicans will have no choice: using the power of the purse to force negotiation is the heart of the Constitution’s division of power. What we are witnessing in Washington is the essence of the American system of preserving freedom.”
Gingrich put it in stark terms last week on CNN’s newly revived “Crossfire.” He said: “The worst possible outcome for the country from the impasse ... would be for House Republicans to cave. This is a pivotal conflict that will define the relationship between Congress and the executive branch for the next three years. The country will be much better off if Congress does not abdicate its constitutional role and if the president cannot ignore that role.”
He said when Obama “is willing to negotiate with Russian, Syrian and Iranian leaders but unwilling to negotiate with the U.S. House of Representatives, it is time for the House to stand firm.”
So says Newt Gingrich. But will it work this time?