In a meeting with reporters in Washington, D.C. on Monday, former House Majority Leader and current FreedomWorks chairman Dick Armey disagreed with Newt Gingrich and refused to endorse a possible government shutdown if Republicans take back control of Congress.
In recent months, Gingrich and conservative figures like Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), Alaska GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller, and GOP pollster Dick Morris have said that Republicans should be willing to stage a budget battle with the president and shut down the federal government if necessary.
Armey was House Majority Leader in 1995, when President Clinton and the GOP had such a showdown. In response to a question from the Huffington Post, Armey broke with Gingrich and said it's premature to even be talking about a government shutdown. However, he seemed to hold the door open to the possibility, depending on what Democrats may try to accomplish in a "lame duck session" and whether Republicans and the White House will be able to work together:
I think that, at this point, to even start making projections of that nature is just speculation. The fact of the matter is, if in fact, irrespective of how the elections turn out, will there be a lame duck session? If there is a lame duck session, what will the Democrats try to accomplish in that session?
There will be then the reforming of government. A big test that was raised before, will they be able to find a workable relationship between a new Republican majority and a White House? So there are many things that we have to see develop before we speculate about a particular incident that might occur. I think there's a tendency to draw too many parallels between the '94-'95 experience and what we think might happen here.
Armey may be reluctant to talk about a possible government shutdown because in the past, he has said that Republicans touting such a strategy months in advance was a major reason why it turned out so badly for the party in 1995:
What went wrong with the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996? How did the Republicans miscalculate?
Newt's position was, presidents get blamed for shutdowns, and he cited Ronald Reagan. My position was, Republicans get blamed for shutdowns. I argued that it is counterintuitive to the average American to think that the Democrat wants to shut down the government. They're the advocates of the government. It is perfectly logical to them that Republicans would shut it down, because we're seen as antithetical to government. I said if there's a shutdown, we're going to get the blame. Here's the other thing: You're heard saying rather boldly in June that you're going to shut the government in the fall. You've set the stage for the press to report that the Republicans are now doing in October what they said they'd do in June. Even if, in fact, they thought it was the right strategy to shut down the government, they should have kept their mouths shut about it. The fact of the matter is what happened was, they honestly believed that Clinton would not shut down the government. It was a fiasco that was harmful and dangerous to us because we made it that way.
Armey and FreedomWorks President and CEO Matt Kibbe still endorse repealing Obamacare, although they acknowledged that it would be a "complicated" process in which Republicans go after the funding, the individual mandate and other parts.
Armey also gave House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) as pass for saying Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" that he'd support an extension of the Bush tax cuts just for those making under $250,000 a year if that was the only vote he'd get. "Well, you know, one of the first things in politics is to do what is doable, and you have right now a Democrat president and a Democrat leadership in both the House and the Senate that is so ideologically defined," said Armey, adding, "The class warfare malarkey that these guys live by has become theological to them, and it's quite possible that John Boehner basically realizes you can't get Democrats emotionally prepared to deal with the fact that comprehensive continuation of the tax structure as we know it today after 10 years is just, because they've so endowed themselves with the presumption of intellectual superiority baloney."
UPDATE: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine released a statement today condemning GOP talk of a government shutdown: "Republicans have already made it clear that they want to roll back the progress made by President Obama and Democrats in Congress to rescue our economy. They would instead return to the 'exact same' failed policies they pursued under President Bush. Now we know they plan to use the exact same partisan strategies they pursued in the 1990s to cut off government services people rely upon and prevent our government from remedying the damage they caused. .... If Republicans get their way and shut down our government, millions of American seniors, veterans, and families will be denied access to programs, benefits, and services they rely on every day. We can't -- and won't -- let that happen."