Imagine if Mitt Romney was president, and the Senate Democrats refused to vote on a continuing resolution unless it had provisions attached requiring background checks for all gun purchases. Would Rob’s friends in the gun lobby urge Romney to negotiate?
Ezra Klein offers another example: “Imagine if the Republican Party had won the 2012 election and Senate Democrats threatened to breach the debt ceiling and cause a financial crisis unless Republicans added a public option to Obamacare. Does anyone think a President Mitt Romney would find that position reasonable? Does anyone think that position would be reasonable?”
One of Klein’s readers offered another: “In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against.”
It’s not an easy call if the confrontation centers on your most precious issue. I might have favored a more dramatic showdown over funding for the Iraq War. But in the long run, the precedent would have been worse than a few more years of Bush’s war. Every budget cycle, some faction would take it hostage to pursue some end it couldn’t enact through the constitutional process of bills becoming law.
Traditional conservatives understand that civility, decorum and culture are at least as important to an institution’s success as rules and regulations. Congress is loaded with traditions of decorum and rules of respect that have served it well. Historians remember the caning of Charles Sumner on the Senate floor because it was so exceptional, not because it justifies boorishness or violence.
Precedents matter. I’m still glad Robert Bork never made it to the Supreme Court, but to the extent Ted Kennedy’s “borking” of Bork set a new standard for viciousness in confirmation hearings, the precedent set may have done more damage to the nation than Bork’s confirmation would have.
Obama owes it to every president who follows him to the White House to refuse to bend to budget or debt ceiling extortion.