Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008 | 2:05 a.m.
Late 1995 was a particularly bitter time in American politics. Then-President Clinton, a Democrat, was clashing with a Republican-led Congress over the federal budget.
The impasse resulted in a partial federal government shutdown that initially sent home 800,000 civilian employees. Public opinion polls showed most of the blame was assigned to the Republicans.
Thirteen years later some House Republicans — apparently with short memories — are threatening another government shutdown if the Democratic-led Congress doesn’t vote to lift a moratorium on new offshore oil drilling. With the ban set to expire at the end of September, there has been media speculation that the Democrats will extend it as part of a bill to keep the federal government running beyond Sept. 30.
Leave it to former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who presided over the House during the 1995 shutdown, to stoke the flames that could lead to another shutdown. The San Francisco Chronicle, in a Sunday story, quoted Gingrich as saying Republicans should force a showdown with Democrats.
But Republicans would do well to ignore the advice of the mean-spirited Gingrich, who contributed as much as anyone in recent memory to the ugliness that turned off many people to the goings on inside Washington’s Beltway.
As the Chronicle pointed out, a federal shutdown would do more than simply send government workers home. National parks and passport offices would close. Veterans would face problems getting their benefit checks, and distressed homeowners would face delays in obtaining government-backed home loans.
Instead of forcing a government shutdown by attempting to block a budget measure or pressuring President Bush to veto it, House Republicans ought to concentrate on an energy strategy that extends beyond fossil fuels, one that includes heavier investments in wind, solar and geothermal energy. They should push American automakers to accelerate development and production of alternative-fuel vehicles. More than anything else, House Republicans should stop carrying water for Big Oil.
What they shouldn’t do is hold the federal government hostage.