Cranking the Obstructionism up to 11.

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(flickr/kainet)

I missed this on Friday, but it's worth mentioning: Crooked Timber's John Quiggin predicts a government shutdown if Republicans win the House of Representatives in November. That is, if today's Republicans are more extreme, more disciplined, and more disdainful of the president than their Gingrich-era forebears, then by Quiggin's lights, there's no reason for them not to shutdown the government.

In the conversation that followed, Paul Krugman and Steve Benen agreed with Quiggin's take, while Nicholas Beaudrot and Jonathan Bernstein offered their dissents, arguing that Republicans suffered by shutting down the government in 1995 and aren't itching to repeat the mistake. To Beaudrot particularly, it's more likely that the GOP would stage an "effective shutdown" of the government and "keep the lights on at enough agencies that most people notice the government is still around, just less responsive than it use to."

Republicans are smart enough to know that the last shutdown was a major political loser; by digging in their heels and forcing the federal government to close down parks, offices and everything in between, Gingrich-era Republicans handed President Clinton the brush he needed to paint them as right-wing extremists and ardent obstructionists. As Bernstein notes in his post, Gingrich failed in his reading of the president. He saw Clinton as weak, when in fact, the opposite was true.

Minority Leader John Boehner seems unlikely to make the same mistake. President Obama is entering his third year with a string of significant legislative achievements, successes which Clinton did not have. With that, Boehner has far more reason to think that Obama will push back against him than Gingrich had for Clinton. It seems very unlikely that he would lead a government shutdown and give Obama that kind of opening, especially when he is extremely well-positioned to play the conciliatory mediator.

To go back to a post I wrote last week, it's far more likely that Republicans will adopt the strategy of 1997-2000 -- endless investigations of the White House, regardless of whether there is anything significant to investigate. I'd be surprised if impeachment were seriously on the table, but at the very least, we can expect loud GOP investigations into ACORN and the New Black Panther Party (I wish I were joking).

As for the Senate (where Democrats will have a smaller majority), my guess is that Republicans will continue their unanimous opposition and use their greater numbers to all but halt Senate business, leaving Obama with few avenues for advancing legislation or confirming nominees. Either way, if Republicans do well this fall, we can certainly expect them to turn the obstruction up to 11 for 2011 and beyond.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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