Who wins in a government showdown

at 06:30 AM ET, 03/30/2011

Talk of a government shutdown, on hold for weeks, is starting to heat up again. And so is the debate over which side would win politically in a shutdown scenario.

Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean said Tuesday he would be “quietly rooting for” a shutdown if he was still at the helm of the DNC. “I know who’s going to get blamed – we’ve been down this road before,” Dean added in a reference to the 1995 government shutdown.

Meanwhile South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint (R), a leader of the tea party movement in Congress, offered up a warning to his own party about the dangers of shying away from a shutdown in an interview with National Review; “I just hope that we are not so afraid of a government shutdown that we are not willing to make the right decisions,” he said. “That is what the tea party is for.”

With major figures in both parties now openly discussing the possibility, it’s clear that the next nine days will be filled with as much political posturing as policy debate, as both sides prepare for the political cataclysm of a government shutdown.

But which side is in better position to win?

Democrats, as epitomized by Dean’s comments, believe the 1995 shutdown(s) — the federal government actually closed its door on two separate occasions — prove that the president enters any standoff with an edge.

In the 1995 shutdown, President Bill Clinton used the bully pulpit to cast himself as the adult in the room, working to make sure people got back to work. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R), on the other hand, was painted into a corner — caricatured as an ideologue unconcerned about average people. Clinton won, as most people point to the government shutdown as the start of a political comeback that carried him to a second term a year later.

That analogy is imperfect, however, for one major reason: Gingrich was a high profile and divisive figure nationally — not to mention within his own party — and Clinton took advantage of that fact to the hilt. Current House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is nowhere near as well known or disliked, making it harder to villainize him or turn a government shutdown into a personality battle between the president and the speaker.

And, while conservatives like DeMint focus on the importance of holding the line on budget cuts in order to stay true to the tea party element of the GOP that helped deliver across-the-board victories in 2010, there is also evidence that Republicans hold the high ground on the budget debate with electorally critical independents.

In a survey conducted by Democracy Corps, a liberal polling consortium, in 50 competitive House districts currently held by Republicans, a majority of independents (53 percent) favor the GOP plan to cut $61 billion from domestic programs this year. Just 38 percent of independents oppose that idea.

Asked whether they were more concerned that Republicans would go too far in making cuts or that Democrats wouldn’t go far enough, 57 percent of independents were more concerned about Democrats not cutting enough, while 35 percent were more worried about the GOP cutting too much.

Of course, those numbers — and all polling on the possibility of a government shutdown — exists in a vacuum. Until the government actually shuts down and the battle to lay blame begins, it’s impossible to game out the political consequences.

And, the fact that House Republican leaders are reaching out to conservative House Democrats about the possibility of securing their votes for a budget deal — an acknowledgment they may lose a significant part of the tea party base for any compromise — suggests that the GOP doesn’t want to risk the unpredictable politics of a shutdown against an adversary like Obama.

It’s that fear of the unknown — politicians, as a rule, do not love the unknown — that we’ve long believed would ultimately lead to a compromise on the budget. But, with both sides beginning the shutdown spin wars in earnest, it might be time to reconsider that notion.

DCCC chair and members pays full dues: Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (N.Y.) recently complained to the New York Times about House members who don’t pay their dues.

Now he’s trying to lead by example. Along with DCCC recruiting chairwoman Allyson Schwartz (Pa.), Israel announced at a members’ dinner Tuesday night that they are paying their dues in full — for the entire cycle — this month.

Together that’s $450,000 for the committee. Israel and Schwartz join Reps. Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the only other Democrats so far to pay all their dues. They’re hoping to get more lawmakers to pay up in the next few days, so it will count towards their first quarter numbers.

The DCCC has a lot of money to raise: the committee is was $17.3 in debt at the end of February.

Obama praises Kaine, Rangel: On a trip to New York for two party events, Obama had kind words for both DNC Chairman Tim Kaine and ethically embattled New York Rep. Charlie Rangel (D).

“We are in the district of somebody who helped us to deliver on a historic legislative session over the last couple of years and has been a leader here for a very long time,” Obama told supporters at Harlem’s Studio Museum. “He doesn’t like to remember how long it’s been — but Congressman Charlie Rangel is in the house.”

The president, meanwhile, seemed to hint at a Kaine run for Senate in Virginia.

“Since he happened to be a really great governor for the Commonwealth of Virginia, I suspect that, should he choose to do so, he would also be an outstanding senator from the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Obama said. “But whatever decisions he makes, I just want everybody here to know that he has done an outstanding job for me and an outstanding job for the country. And so I could not be prouder of him.”

Santorum on daughter’s illness: Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), who canceled a trip to Iowa last weekend over a family emergency, tells the AP his youngest daughter’s health pulls him in both directions regarding a potential presidential campaign.

Two-year-old Isabella has trisomy 18, or Edwards syndrome — a condition that in the vast majority of cases causes death within a year. He said that, on the one hand, he wants to spend as much time with her as possible; on the other, he wants to “fight for people, for children like Bella.”

Santorum says he’ll make a decision in the next few months. He’s trying to figure out if he can raise enough money for a serious campaign while also caring for his seven children.

Fixbits:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) looks like she’s got a backup plan in case this whole running-for-president thing doesn’t work out. She has filed for reelection to her House seat.

Former Minnesota state GOP chairman Ron Carey, who was a top aide to Bachmann last year, is supporting former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty , and he took a shot at Bachmann by adding: “I don’t want to have an emotionally filled endeavor only to get 35 percent [of the vote] in November.” Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) chooses Pawlenty too.

Pawlenty says his past support for cap and trade was a “mistake” and “stupid.”

Sarah Palin’s Alaska,” the TV shows starring the former Alaska governor and her family, got a $1.2 million production credit from a law Palin signed in 2008.

Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) suggests social security is losing solvency because of legalized abortion.

Political insiders are starting to believe in Pawlenty and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour in the 2012 GOP presidential field, according to National Journal poll. Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, have seen their stock among insiders fall.

Democrat Ann McLane Kuster is in for a second run against Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.).

Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) told constituents at a town hall that his $174,000 congressional salary doesn’t allow him to live “high off the hog.”

Pizza magnate Herman Cain, who stirred the Southern Republican Leadership Conference last year with an impassioned speech, will return to the newly re-named Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.

Must-reads:

Interview with RomneyCare author Jonathan Gruber” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

How big GOP 2012 field could boil down to three” — Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor

Huck keeps the 2012 field guessing” — Christian Heinze, The Hill

 
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