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If senior Republicans back a deal of less than $61 billion, they need to pay heed to the fates of Utah Senator Bennett, Delaware Congressman Mike Castle, and Florida Governor Chris Christie. And they need to note as well the legion of senior Democrats from seemingly invulnerable districts who lost their seats in 2010. That may well be their fate.
And why are Boehner and Cantor marching off the cliff? The Republican Party will win a government shutdown. It will be the defining event of the 2011-2012 cycle. Faced with a choice between more spending and less spending, the American people will back less spending. The lessons of 1995-1996 do not apply. Clinton won that shutdown (in which I was instrumental) because the fight was about Medicare. Had the battle been merely quantitative — as this fight would be — the Republicans would easily have prevailed.
When John Boehner and Eric Cantor sit down to decide whether to take a deal or not, here are the stakes:
If they take a deal below $61 billion, they will split their party, alienated their supporters, trigger a mass of primary fights, lose their ability to strike deals over the debt limit or the 2012 budget, and terminate the revolution of 2010. And Obama will be re-elected.
If they reject such a deal and shut down the government, they will galvanize their supporters, paint Obama into a liberal corner, force the Democrats to accede to their budget cuts, and win the fights over the debt limit, Obamacare repeal, EPA, NLRB, and the 2012 budget because the Democrats will be too petrified to weather another shut down. And Obama will be defeated.
Those are the stakes for the leaders.
For the members, the decision as to whether to follow their leaders off a cliff is simple: Do you value your seat in Congress you worked so hard to win?
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