The GOP's worst shutdown blunders


Identifying the single worst mistake by congressional Republicans in this month’s shutdown debacle is tough. There were too many strategic blunders to count.

But I’ll start with the damage the shutdown did to small businesses, particularly those built around national parks, monuments, and recreation and conservation areas.

The GOP is supposed to be the paycheck party. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, amid the weakest, slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, Republicans are the champions of job creation and entrepreneurship. It’s the reason the GOP fights against Obamacare, fights against tax increases, fights for the Keystone XL pipeline and fights suicidal climate change legislation.

But giving Democrats the opportunity to partially shut down the government was stupid. Of course the Obama administration was going to close national parks. Of course it was going to put up barricades around national monuments. Of course House Republicans would be blamed for those closures.

For businesses from recreation to hospitality, from restaurants to rentals, the shutdown was the coup de grace. They dug deep and survived the economic crash five years ago, reinvented themselves and came back. But losing all their customers for the first three weeks of October, when fall foliage is spectacular and temperatures are ideal, finished off some businesses. Those that were able to hang on sustained losses that make Obamacare look like a good deal.

This economic hardship is the biggest story of the shutdown, not the furloughs that turned into paid vacations for federal workers. Not only did they get back pay, the legislation that reopened the government paves the way for federal workers to get a 1 percent across-the-board pay raise come January. This for workers whose average benefits package is worth almost as much as the average private-sector salary.

The GOP’s second-biggest mistake was fighting so hard to undo Obamacare that the shutdown became the country’s top story, not Obamacare. In late September, did no one in Republican leadership realize that healthcare.gov and state health insurance exchanges launched Oct. 1, the very day the shutdown would begin? Agreeing to fund the government and keep it open, no strings attached, would have put Democrats on defense. Instead, the GOP brand — what was left of it, anyway — was damaged badly.

Literally hundreds of journalists reported on the shutdown instead of the technical failures of the exchanges. President Barack Obama held an Oct. 8 news conference, and not a single member of the White House press corps asked a question about the Obamacare rollout, even though it was going terribly.

Which provides House Republicans with their only ray of light in this debacle. President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi strongly defended Obamacare throughout the shutdown, saying nothing more in the Affordable Care Act would be changed. Pelosi said there would be no delay in the the law’s individual coverage mandate, which takes effect Jan. 1, even if the online exchanges are still working poorly in November and December.

Various insurance and information technology experts interviewed by a number of national media outlets have said the online exchanges, as programmed, can’t be fixed — they need to be redesigned. With each passing week, more and more Americans are learning of the crushing premium increases they face because of Obamacare — and the worse coverage they’ll get for that money. The insurance is unaffordable, even for people who qualify for subsidies.

If the websites continue to crash and enrollments remain far, far below administration projections, pressure will build on Democrats to delay the individual mandate, take down the exchanges and declare a do-over. And if that happens, perhaps Republicans will be able to convince a slice of the electorate they were right about Obamacare all along.

A little more than a week ago, KSNV-TV, Channel 3, canceled “The Agenda,” a half-hour political commentary and analysis program that aired weekdays at 12:30 p.m. Hosts Hugh Jackson and Elizabeth Crum had made the jump from print/web journalism to live television and delivered a consistently interesting and informative show that delivered news-making interviews as well.

Crum and Jackson, along with producers Gina Vereb and David Isbell, were kind enough to have me and a few other ink-stained newspaper types on the program many times during its roughly two-year run. “The Agenda,” like all political journalism, was especially valuable at election time, providing voters with perspective on campaign spin, hit-piece mailers and super-PAC ads. Jackson swung hard from the left, and Crum brought a libertarian perspective.

KSNV owner Jim Rogers is doubling down on local news, expanding local content and ditching syndicated television. It’s too bad “The Agenda” didn’t make the cut as part of that strategy.

“KSNV opted to expand News 3 Live at Noon back to one hour,” Lisa Howfield, Channel 3’s general manager and vice president, wrote in a Friday email. “We will continue to cover politics and issues impacting Southern Nevada within this additional half hour of mid-day newscast.”

Channel 3 deserves credit for launching “The Agenda” in the first place. My personal thanks to Crum and Jackson for allowing me to learn that live TV is a lot harder than it looks.

Glenn Cook (gcook@reviewjournal.com) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.