Harrisburg, Pa.—”I’m really disappointed that Congress and the President reached an agreement and the government won’t be shutting down,” state Rep. Curt Schneider (R.-Chester County) told me late Friday night, as news of the agreement was breaking. “I was planning to raise a glass in a midnight toast to celebrate a shutdown.”
Schneider, one of the leading conservative lawmakers in the Keystone State, was attending the two-day Pennsylvania Leadership Conference at the Radisson Hotel here in Harrisburg. Now in its 21st year, the annual conclave of Pennsylvania conservatives drew an all-time high of 700-plus office-holders and activists—ranging from traditional cultural and economic conservatives to the newer Tea Partiers, who are rapidly becoming a factor in state Republican politics.
By far, most of them shared the sentiments voiced by Schneider—that they were tired of lawmakers taking so long to make cuts in federal spending and concluded that the only way to get action on reducing the cost of government was the shutdown that was finally averted.
“Would I mind a shutdown? Not at all,” state Rep. Brad Roae (R.-Crawford County) said. “This would open with the essential things provided in the U.S. Constitution maintained, and give our men and women in Washington new resolve to finish a budget very soon.”
By “essential things,” Roae added, he “does not mean the Departments of Education and Energy. They’re not in the Constitution.”
Kevin Shivers, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said he was “disappointed the President and his team failed to recognize the message of last November and the budget process has come to this.” He added that “Pennsylvanians believe it’s important that the Republicans honor the pledge on which they were elected and won the House—namely, cut the spending.”
Shivers, Schroeder, and other Pennsylvania Leadership Conference participants emphasized that, if Pennsyvlanians sounded much more welcome to the idea of a government shutdown than people in other states, it’s because they have lived through similar situations at the statewide level.
“[Former Democratic Gov. Ed] Rendell put us through shutdowns frequently during the budget process,” Schneider recalled, “because he wanted to spend more and Republican legislators wanted to make cuts in spending. Sure, we closed down, and I remember going through several weeks in August and September without a paycheck. We put things on credit cards, my wife wasn’t happy, and then when the budget issues were resolved, we’d get our back pay—just like the ‘nonessential’ federal employees will.”
Frank Ryan, longtime Harrisburg conservative activist and recently retired Marine Corps colonel, said, “I welcome a shutdown that will force lawmakers to make major cuts in spending.” When I asked about men and women in uniform who will have their pay delayed, Ryan assured me that “the military community is a close family and it takes care of one another in situations like this. All we ask is that our men and women in Congress make the cuts we desperately need. And that they show solidarity with the families of people in uniform by declining their pay during a shutdown.” (On Friday, before the agreement, Pennsylvania’s Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and Rep. Lou Barletta both issued statements saying they would defer their paychecks during the period of a shutdown).
As it turned out, there was no shutdown. But if there is any message from the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference in Harrisburg, it is that conservatives—at least those in Pennsylvania—are ready and understanding if the same situation arises next week or until the budget stalemate is resolved.