There Are No Winners in the Shutdown

Margaret Carlson was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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Earlier today, Bloomberg View columnists Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru met online to chat about the government shutdown. Below is a lightly edited transcript.

Margaret: Everyone is looking for the right analogy to bolster their view of who's at fault for the government shutdown. The best so far is Jon Stewart's. The New York Giants lost 31-7 on Sunday. You know what the Giants didn't say after the game? "If you don't give us 25 more points by midnight on Monday, we will shut down the [blanking] NFL!" That makes football players more mature than House Republicans. I read your column about why Republicans are "not crazy" -- which is a funny way to put it -- for wanting to repeal Obamacare. I agree. But I worked for Ralph Nader when Republicans bucked Detroit on seat belts and air bags and they didn't shut down the government when a law was passed requiring cars to have both. They lost. The way to repeal Obamacare -- not a crazy idea -- is to get a majority in the Senate sufficient to override a presidential veto. That's how you get rid of laws you don't like; not by throwing a tantrum.

Ramesh: I actually rather like, on small-government grounds, the idea of a one-house veto of government programs, and I'd like to see a different budget process that made it possible without affecting the entire federal budget (or a huge chunk of it). I agree, though, that what the Republicans are doing now is a bad idea -- and if it were successful, would set a bad precedent. But I don't see how it could possibly be successful. At the same time, I'm not terribly alarmed about it. The Gingrich-Clinton shutdowns didn't keep 1996 from being one of the best years in American history. Maybe Republicans will learn from the shutdown that this sort of thing doesn't work and we'll therefore avoid a truly damaging debt-ceiling debacle.

Margaret: The real harm would be testing the debt-ceiling limit. Last time, Tim Geithner, not given to hyperbole, or smiling for that matter, said the effect of default wouldn't just be felt for a year but for a generation, just walking up to the edge of the cliff cost $1.4 billion and an S&P downgrade of our credit rating. The world -- apparently even Republican economists think this -- runs on Treasury bonds. It's not a beanbag to be tossed around, except to the anarchists who seem to have taken over John Boehner's body and mind. We now live in a world where everyone goes too far, not just House Republicans: Miley Cyrus twerking, a meth dealer being lionized, people constantly substituting "no problem" for "you're welcome" -- a personal pet peeve. In that category, I put John Boehner, for mimicking the president on the floor (he can save that for a roast), and the president, for raising the idea of another big fight with Republicans at Christmas. That would make Republicans the Grinches who stole Christmas.

Ramesh: Lionizing a meth dealer? I think maybe we watch different television shows. But, yes, we've lost the norms that used to constrain behavior. In my going-too-far category, I'd put jamming a sweeping law through Congress on a partisan vote when you won office campaigning against some of its key provisions and when the public had clearly indicated that it didn't want it.

Margaret: You weren't part of the millions of "Breaking Bad" viewers glued to the finale? I quit watching when the good guy behaving badly became a bad guy behaving badly. An individual mandate was the Republican solution to health care that Obama embraced rather than going for a single payer system. If you don't require everyone to have insurance, you don't have a proper risk pool. Something had to be done to bring us in line with other countries with much better health-care outcomes for their whole population at lower cost. This is a compromise. The public wanted something to be done to improve health care. Now everything they don't like about health care is the president's fault.

Ramesh: It's true that some conservative thinkers and politicians supported an individual mandate, but most conservatives never did. I'm not convinced that other countries really do achieve much better health outcomes when you control for the heroic efforts American medicine makes for infants and our relatively reckless lifestyles. Speaking of which, I haven't seen the "Breaking Bad" finale yet -- so no spoilers, please! I never saw it as glorifying Walter White. By this season you'd have to be a sociopath to be rooting for him. I think, though, that I've already seen the denouement of the shutdown, and it won't end well for Republicans.

Margaret: I doubt Republicans will keep the audience that "Breaking Bad" had until the end. The problem for them is that they have to keep shouting louder, stamping their feet harder and holding their breath longer to keep the public's attention on their theory that what the gods would build, they must first destroy. I fear for interest rates. I really fear for the pandas without the Panda Cam. I do see that, as usual, Congress kept air-traffic controllers going so lawmakers can zip around and not be inconvenienced as hundreds of thousands of others will be by the shutdown. They're working on emergency legislation now to try to keep popular things open. That picture of a group of veterans who traveled from Mississippi to visit the World War II Memorial only to find it closed was not pretty.

Ramesh: The pandas definitely don't count as essential workers.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the authors on this story:
Margaret Carlson at
Ramesh Ponnuru at