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In 1995 and 1996, the government shut down twice, for a total of 26 days.
During those years, it was President Bill Clinton who clashed with Republicans, led not by a freshman like Ted Cruz, but Newt Gingrich, the House Speaker at the time.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed, and the whole ordeal cost $1.4 billion, according to the Congressional Research Service.
“The whole city shut down, but at the same time, people started to appreciate what some of these things that you take for granted that weren’t happening then really meant in daily life,” former U.S. Senator Tom Daschle, told Here & Now.
Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, was Senate minority leader during the shutdowns.
“It was about the budget — and that is probably the single biggest distinction. This shutdown has nothing to do with the budget. It has everything to do with the Republicans desire to use the continuing resolution and the debt limit as leverage to stop the Affordable Care Act,” Daschle said.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, in 1995 and '6, the government shut down twice for a total of 26 days as then-President Bill Clinton fought with House Republicans led not by a freshman upstart like Ted Cruz but by then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Republican Bob Dole led the Senate.
Hundreds of thousands of federal workers were furloughed. The cost rose to one and a half billion dollars, according to the Congressional Research Service, before Republicans let go of their side of the rope in this political tug of war.
Former South Dakota Democratic Senator Tom Daschle was Senate minority leader then. Senator Daschle, welcome.
TOM DASCHLE: Thank you.
YOUNG: And the New York Times wrote a piece this past weekend. They quoted Lindsey Graham from South Carolina, the Republican, as saying: I'll buy you a Coke Zero if you can tell me what that government shutdown was about in '95. What was the issue? Nobody remembers. Is that true?
DASCHLE: I don't think it's true, actually. I think that everybody knows exactly what it was about. It was about the budget. And that's probably the single biggest distinction. This shutdown has nothing to do with the budget. It has everything to do with the Republicans' desire to use the continuing resolution and the debt limit as leverage to stop the Affordable Care Act.
YOUNG: Others have pointed this out as well, that in this case this is a law that's already been passed and upheld by the Supreme Court. At that time the first shutdown had to do with congressional demands for balancing the budget within seven years. But then they agreed on doing that and then disagreed on how to implement that agreement, and so there was a second shutdown.
What was your sense of what that felt like in Washington at that time?
DASCHLE: Well, for me personally it was quite an experience. We spent a good part of that time, I think 10 or 11 days, in the Oval Office, literally negotiating with the president, the vice president and the director of Office of Management and Budget at the time. But it was - the whole city shut down. But at the same time people started to appreciate what some of these things that you take for granted that weren't happening then really meant in daily life.
YOUNG: Well, be honest though. How did you view it as a Democrat at that time? I mean it ended up blowing up in the face of the Republicans. But did you know that that was going to happen?
DASCHLE: I think there was a general feeling that we had public opinion on our side, that it was the Republicans who were much more willing to be publicly supportive of a government shutdown. And then there were other issues that the speaker in particular was involved with, including a flight where he got off the back of the plane and people were blaming some of it on just that.
YOUNG: Let's explain for people who weren't around then. I'm looking at a cartoon on the front of New York's Daily News at the time, and it has a huge caricature of Newt Gingrich, you know, a cartoon drawing of him as a baby with a baby bottle, and the headline is crybaby, saying that Newt Gingrich said that one of the reasons he wanted this shutdown is that President Clinton had made him exit from the rear of Air Force One when they'd gone on a trip.
DASCHLE: That's correct, and I think it was a total miscommunication. I don't think anybody forced him to go down the back steps of the plane. But regardless, he was attributed as using that as one of the reasons he was becoming more and more intransigent.
YOUNG: Well, you talked about what it was like to be negotiating with leaders. That's another huge difference. That's not something that's happening now. Talk about the role of Senator Bob Dole, the majority leader. How different was it then that this leadership was enforced from the top and not, as some are saying today, from a new freshman like Ted Cruz?
DASCHLE: A huge difference. Bob Dole will forever be in my hall of fame for a lot of reasons, and he was majority leader and I was minority leader at the time, and you knew he was speaking for everybody in his caucus. And nobody defied him, nobody challenged him. I think because of Bob's leadership and his feeling about shutting the government down and how wrong it was, it had a huge influence on the way Republicans ultimately looked at it.
YOUNG: What advice would you give to Republicans today, given some of the things that were unexpected. I'm thinking of suddenly there was a snowstorm, and all the workers have been furloughed. Nobody in Washington could get around. And this got blamed on the Republicans. What might you advise them that they might not be anticipating?
DASCHLE: Well, there are always amazing unforeseen circumstances, and there will be some this time. We don't know what they'll be. We do know that an even more important element is coming soon with the debt limit, need to extend the debt limit on October 17.
So you've got a very serious series of complicated and very, very problematic economic matters that if not address could create a situation equal to if not exceeding the problems we experienced in 2009.
YOUNG: But on the other hand, Senator Daschle, are Democrats playing a bit of a game here as well? Republicans feel the Democrats could have come back on Sunday after the House Republicans passed their first bill and taken up the bill sooner so that we weren't so up against the clock, that many Democrats are not compromising, in part because they want to see the Republican Party be blamed for a shutdown.
DASCHLE: Well, no, I think the Democrats' motivation is pretty simple. We're a country of the rule of law, and the law that was passed ought to be adhered to unless we change it. But the way to change it is to go through a process by which you have hearings, debate, amendments. You don't hold up the good faith and credit of the United States or all of government functions in order to get your way. That isn't the way you legislate.
What's next - Social Security, Medicare? I mean if you once do this kind of approach to legislating, who knows where it can lead, and it's a dangerous precedent, sends all the wrong messages to countries around the world.
YOUNG: Former Senator Tom Daschle, a Democrat of South Dakota. He is now a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Thanks so much.
DASCHLE: My pleasure.
YOUNG: So how's your day going? Are you feeling the shutdown, or are you trying those health exchanges? Let us know at hereandnow.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.