Fox News misleadingly claimed Senate Democrats were to blame for the government shutdown, ignoring the role Republicans in the House and Senate have played in refusing to negotiate over government funding.
On the October 2 Fox & Friends, co-host Steve Doocy attacked Senate Democrats for not showing up to a Republican photo opportunity, in which congressional Republicans including Sen. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) sat on one side of a table facing empty chairs. Doocy claimed, “none of the Democrats showed up to try to resolve the Senate shutdown”:
Fox also hyped an October 1 tweet from House Majority Leader Cantor that claimed that House Republicans were “ready to negotiate with the Senate,” criticizing the Senate Democrats in an on-screen graphic for leaving House Republicans “alone at table to compromise.”
But House Republicans' October 1 offer to negotiate was little more than a photo opportunity since, as The New York Times pointed out, they have shown no willingness to back down from their “threat of blackmail.” From The New York Times editorial board:
Finally, at the last minute, when there was still time to end the charade with a straightforward spending bill, Mr. Boehner made the most absurd demand of all: an immediate conference committee with the Senate. Suddenly, with less than an hour left, he wanted to set up formal negotiations?
For six months, the Senate has been demanding a conference with the House on the 2014 budget -- talks that might have prevented the impasse in the first place. But the House leadership has adamantly refused, knowing it would not succeed in getting all the cuts to taxes and spending that it demands. For Mr. Boehner to call for a conference near midnight was the height of hypocrisy.
Having let down the public, Republicans will now, inevitably, scramble to save their reputation. They are desperate to make it appear as if President Obama and the Democrats are the ones being intransigent, hoping voters will think that everyone is at fault and simply blame “Washington.” Mr. Boehner even mocked the president on Monday for refusing to negotiate over health reform, as if he actually expected Mr. Obama to join in wrecking a law that will provide health coverage to millions of uninsured Americans under threat of blackmail.
Fox's newest attempt to blame Senate Democrats for the government shutdown ignores that the controversy is the result of an unprecedented effort by House Republicans to demand concessions in exchange for doing their job. As USA Today noted, the GOP's demands “are both preposterous and largely unrelated to budgetary matters” and "[n]o president of either party could accept that kind of badgering. No president should."
Though the media has repeatedly presented a false equivalence between the House Republicans and Senate Democrats' actions in advance of the shutdown, attempts to shift the full weight of the blame away from the GOP ignores the fact that threatening to shut down the government in order to repeal duly-passed legislation is a "dramatic break from the past." In New York magazine, Jonathan Chait highlighted the importance of remembering that “one party is pursuing this as a conscious strategy.” The Huffington Post's Dan Froomkin also reported that congressional experts and historians agree that "[e]ven compared to the famous government shutdowns of 1995 and 1996, the current GOP bargaining position is unprecedented in its political extremism":
“It's unheard of to shut the government down because you want to repeal a law,” said Tiefer.
“That seems quite beyond the pale,” said George Washington University political science professor Sarah Binder.
Former Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress official Louis Fisher said he was shocked when he saw what he now recognizes as a foreshadowing of today's crisis, when Republican senators refused for two years to confirm Richard Cordray -- or anyone else, for that matter -- to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless President Obama agreed to change the bureau's structure.
“That is really amazing, to say you're not going to confirm unless the underlying statute is rewritten,” Fisher said. “That was breathtaking to me.”
“The Republican Party is caught between politics and its responsibility, as a majority party of the House of Representatives, for governance,” said [University of Maryland professor of government and politics the Frances] Lee. “Governance always requires disappointing your base.”
It's easier when you're in the minority, she said. “The party out of power can take advantage of its lack of responsibility for governing.”
Today's GOP “wants to behave like a party that has no power at all, but unfortunately for it, it does,” she said. “The politics of defunding Obamacare are great with its base, but it has an institutional role which it cannot evade.”