Republicans in retreat Shutdown debacle: GOP-controlled House passes flawed measure to re-open government.


MAXIMS TO REMEMBER for House Republicans who have been clobbered for trying to use a government shutdown to force President Clinton to accept their balanced budget plan:

* He who tries to hold presidential feet to the fire can wind up with burned toes.

* He who uses a crowbar to get his way on Capitol Hill may find it turns into a boomerang.

* He who beats his chest too hard may soon suffer a rib-cage cave-in.

This has been a tough week for Speaker Newt Gingrich and the chutzpah crowd in the House Republican Caucus. Only a little while ago they thought they had taken Bill Clinton's measure, thought they had Bob Dole's Senate in their pocket, thought the public was with them as they embarked on a seven-year journey to a balanced budget. High on hubris, they believed that a temporary shutdown of the government would bring opponents to heel. Federal spending would be slashed and taxes, too, putting the welfare state in deep freeze.

Some of their goals, in sensible measure, were and are desirable. But GOP freshmen (and some elders who ought to know better) are learning that the institutions and traditions of Washington are not easily overturned.

Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., said Mr. Clinton's tough negotiating stance "has shaken us and clearly forced us to go back to the drawing board." Newt Gingrich himself, who once bragged he would shut down the government, wound up saying that it was "indefensible to put federal workers in the cross-fire." And Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who had excoriated Mr. Dole's plan for getting government employees back to work, had the crow-eating task of defending a similar House proposal.

With House Republicans in retreat and GOP divisions exposed for all the world to see, 760,000 federal workers will go back to their jobs on full pay at least temporarily. But in a parting shot of perversity, the House revolutionaries are denying some of them the funds and the authority to do their work properly.

GOP legislators need to go home and assess what their constituents think of the Potomac spectacle they have created. They need to ponder Mr. Dole's warning that their mandate is not to shut down government but to balance the budget. They need to understand, as well, that in blurring their message, they have emboldened doctrinaire liberals to quash Mr. Clinton's efforts to be a "new Democrat" willing to hold runaway entitlement programs in check. Somehow the forces of moderation and good sense now have to come to the fore.

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