Government Shutdown: The Blame Game and Diminishing Returns

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristinausk/

It’s that time of year again: Summer has officially ended, days are getting shorter, and the United States Congress is marching toward yet another budget debate in which the risk of a government shut down is very real. Congress has until the end of the month to reach a funding agreement — the government is expected to have an annual operating budget of approximately $986 billion this coming fiscal year — or else all non-essential government operations will grind to a halt.

Passing a budget in any given fiscal year is never straightforward. Given the chance, one side or the other will push for some sort of compromise. The GOP, for example, could take this opportunity to push for spending cuts or to get their way with tax reform. But this year the ante has been upped. Republican policymakers in the House of Representatives have passed a short-term funding measure (that would finance operations through December) that explicitly defunds the Affordable Care Act.

This decision has backed each party into separate corners. The Senate, controlled by the Democratic party, is unlikely to pass a budget that defunds Obamacare, and is expected to remove the defunding provision when they return the legislation to the House. Regardless, the White House has made it clear that President Barack Obama will veto any budget measure that defunds the healthcare law.

If neither side can compromise, the government faces a shut down. Understandably, Americans are not amused. In an op-ed in the Wall St. Journal, Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, broke down the results of a survey conducted by Crossroads GPS, which suggest that public opinion is not in favor of a shut down.

“So what would the public reaction be to a shutdown?” asks Rove. “The GPS poll tested the key arguments put forward by advocates of defunding and Mr. Obama’s response. Independents went with Mr. Obama’s counterpunch 57 percent to 35 percent. Voters in Senate battleground states sided with him 59 percent to 33 percent. In lean-Republican congressional districts and in swing congressional districts, Mr. Obama won by 56 percent to 39 percent and 58 percent to 33 percent, respectively.”

He concludes that, “The defunding strategy doesn’t. Going down that road would strengthen the president while alienating independents. It is an ill-conceived tactic, and Republicans should reject it.”

Interest in Budget

Reinforcing the idea that Americans are not amused by the idea of a government shut down is a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center that suggests that blame for a shutdown would be spread pretty evenly between the GOP and the Obama administration. Pew reports that 39 percent of people think that Republicans would be more to blame, while 36 percent think that the Obama administration would be more to blame — 17 percent volunteered the answer that both would be to blame.

Pew Research also asked people how closely they were following the news of the possible government shut down. The results suggest that Americans are growing weary of crisis-mode politics, and are tuning out of the debate. With only about one week to go before the deadline, only 25 percent of respondents report following news of the possible shut down “very closely.”

This is comparable to the percentage of people who followed news of the sequester very closely, but is down 5 percentage points from the percentage of people who followed news of the previous near-shutdown in 2011.

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