The last time the federal government shut down, former Rep. Zach Wamp was in the mix.
As a member of Congress who served seven more terms, Wamp evaded political repercussions.
But as lawmakers hurtled toward another last-minute deadline Monday afternoon, the former congressman-turned-consultant said he isn't as interested in recounting the past as he is in seeing more willingness for compromise among lawmakers.
Wamp, who represented Tennessee's 3rd District between 1995 and 2010, was a member of the Republican-controlled House in the winter of 1995 and 1996, when a pair of shutdowns closed down operations of federal government agencies for a total of 28 days. In an interview with Nooga.com, the former congressman said there were a host of differences between then and now.
"We [Republicans] had the Senate and the House—not just the House," Wamp said. "That was huge. This time, they're not going to get the Senate to concur. They knew that going in."
Wamp was referring to House Republicans, who set a chain in motion on Sept. 21 by approving a government funding bill that stripped dollars marked for implementation of the Affordable Care Act. The bill, which has since gone through several revisions in a continuing back-and-forth between House and Senate chambers, must be approved by 12:01 a.m. Tuesday in order to provide funding to government services deemed "nonessential."
Along with the balance of power, Wamp said Congress boasted higher approval ratings at the time and opted to shut down the government over spending issues rather than health care—an industry he described as "critical" to citizens.
"We decided to make a point and let the government shut down over spending," he said. "And it was over spending, not health care. And health care is critical to a lot of people."
Wamp attributed the gridlock in Congress over the continuing resolution to passage of Obamacare along party lines in 2010, along with the redistricting of congressional districts in recent years. He added that because of partisan gerrymandering, voters have begun sending politicians to Congress whose ideologies represent viewpoints on either the extreme right or left of the spectrum, lowering the influence of moderate lawmakers more willing to compromise.
"You have senators like Bob Corker who are being intellectually honest and who are getting torpedoed for rising above partisanship," he said, alluding to Corker's recent outspokenness against tactics surrounding the funding bill adopted by members of his own party, including Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. "... Most partisan lawmakers are quiet as a mouse. Everyone's hiding under the coattails of leadership, waiting to see how it'll all turn out."
The former congressman also said Republicans seeking to change the health law should focus on making the case in the 2014 midterm and 2016 presidential elections, similar to recent comments made by Sen. Lamar Alexander.
Wamp added that after previous shutdowns the effect on the economy proved costlier than any savings gained.
"It's going to cost more money than it's going to save," Wamp said. "It's going to cost people and the taxpayers more money than it's ever going to save, and that's unfortunate."
According to a Politico report, the shutdowns of 1995 and 1996 came at a cost of approximately $2 billion to the federal government in today's dollars. But despite economic and political costs from shutdowns past, Wamp said he personally didn't encounter much blowback as a politician.
"I don't think I had a lot of fallout from the 1995 shutdowns," he said. "But it was a different era."
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