EDITORIAL: Schumer the extremist

Democratic leaders’ saucy strategy to shut down the government

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If only there were an app for Sen. Charles E. Schumer’s smartphone that would tell him when there’s a reporter on the line waiting to trap him. The New York Democrat was caught unaware that others were listening during a conference call he held with colleagues. Mr. Schumer spoke a bit too liberally about his party’s strategy to win the budget battle set to heat up next week.

“I always use the word ‘extreme,’ that’s what the caucus instructed me to do the other week,” Mr. Schumer is heard saying on tape to describe Republican proposals. His favorite soundbites are: ” ‘Extreme cuts’ and ‘all these riders’ and ‘Boehner’s in a box, but if he supports the Tea Party there’s going to inevitably be a shutdown.’ ” As soon as someone realized the Democratic Policy Committee chairman was seriously off-message, he was cut off.

Those brief but candid remarks lay out a clear strategy. Mr. Schumer intends to place Speaker John A. Boehner in the “box” by refusing to give ground in negotiations. That leaves Mr. Boehner with two choices: temporarily suspend the non-essential functions of government or accept Democratic spending demands, angering the Tea Party activists that gave him the majority he now enjoys. All the Democrats need to do is refuse to cut any spending beyond the $21 billion in token reductions they have proposed so far - that’s out of a budget that spends $3,629 billion. Any decrease in expenditure greater than six-tenths of 1 percent will be attacked as “extreme.”

Democrats know Mr. Boehner cannot accept this nondeal, so they are setting the stage for the shutdown they believe they can win. After all, it worked for the 26 days in 1995-1996 during which nonessential bureaucrats enjoyed a paid holiday. This time around is certain to be far more spectacular, given the bar has been raised by Big Labor’s show in Wisconsin. Undoubtedly, camera-ready shutdown theatrics are being prepared right now in the basement of the AFL-CIO headquarters. This will likely include endless, weepy stories about how secretaries are being told to stay home. Never mind that they’ll eventually be paid, that they often earn six-figure salaries and that their job is guaranteed for life.

We’ll also be told that the nation needs to borrow $1.4 trillion from future generations so that a few tourists can visit the country’s 368 national parks and so that 30,000 visa and passport applications can be processed. After suffering the effects of the Great Recession, it’s unclear how any of these “horror” stories from 1996 would gain traction today. Regardless, Democrats have been setting the stage to pin the blame on Republicans. In a Feb. 20 appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Mr. Schumer claimed he didn’t want a shutdown. “That’s reckless, it would hurt the American people, jobs and the economy,” he said.

When asked whether Democrats would bear any responsibility for a shutdown, Mr. Schumer insisted, “We have said shutdown is off the table. … No Democrat has said ‘Let’s use shutdown to get what we want’ - many Republicans have.” A correction for Mr. Schumer: No Democrat said that publicly - until earlier this week.

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