House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)
House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

When you talk to the combatants in the continuing resolution and debt-ceiling fight (which quickly is becoming a single battle), you get two sides of the same coin. The public is rather clear, but the politicians — on both sides — aren’t listening.

On one hand, the GOP is losing badly with the public on shutting down the government. The Post shows 70 percent of respondents are opposed to the tactic. A National Journal poll likewise shows “65 percent think ‘Congress should provide the funding to keep the government operating and deal with the health care issue separately.’ Just 24 percent think the House ‘is right to fund the continuing operations of the federal government only if Obama agrees to delay or withdraw his health care plan.” From this, Democrats conclude they are “winning,” and the White House is more determined than ever to pound the GOP into the ground.

But wait, say Republicans. The public is evenly divided as to the most culpable party (the National Journal poll reports “38 percent say it’s the Republicans, 30 percent say it’s President Obama, and 19 percent say it’s both.” So a typical response from GOP lawmakers, even among House leaders who didn’t want the shutdown in the first place, is that, while it’s not ideal, the shutdown isn’t going all that badly.

Moreover, Republicans continue to point to polls showing high disapproval of Obamacare and support for cutting spending as part of the debt-ceiling hike.

In a fight in which each side is convinced it can vanquish the other, there is plenty of fodder for hard-liners on both sides to convince themselves to hold tight. In fact, the American people are saying several things: They don’t want a shutdown; they don’t like Obamacare; and they want spending reform along with any increase in the debt ceiling. Self-interested pols refuse to observe these distinctions, and so here we sit with the government closed and no resolution yet in sight.

As we get closer to the debt-ceiling deadline, it becomes increasingly unlikely that a separate continuing resolution deal to get the government back in operation will pass. Republicans, therefore, would be wise to stop fussing with mini continuing resolutions and accusations that this is the Democrats’ shutdown. The longer they play shutdown politics, the less public sympathy they will get.

Instead, it would behoove them to put forth a serious proposal for raising the debt ceiling, funding the government and dealing with small but discrete Republican agenda items (e.g. a down payment on entitlement reform, relief on the medical-device tax). That would respond to the public’s desire to end the shutdown, raise the debt limit and address our debt issue. The sooner Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) can get agreement within the GOP for such a package the better — for the longer the shutdown face-off occupies the public’s attention, the less support the GOP will get.

UPDATE: Indeed, a source tells Right Turn that this is precisely what the GOP plans to do. House Republicans will consider two bills in short order. The first makes sure that paychecks for essential government employees (those working right now, Capitol Police, for example) are issued on time. This will help alleviate stress for many workers. The second bill establishes a negotiating team made up of House and Senate Republicans and Democrats that would start negotiating immediately on debt limit and other fiscal issues. These two bills would merge and then be sent to the Senate. And with that, Republicans may finally get on higher ground, as they bank on the necessity (political and otherwise) for negotiations in divided government and the necessity of paying those essential government employees, a key Democratic constituency.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.