Government Shutdown 2011: Who Americans blame and the effects of Republican freshmen and Democratic leaders

Federal employees and contractors at L'Enfant Plaza and Federal Triangle express their opinions and perspectives on the potential government shutdown.
Compiled by Justin Bank
Washington Post staff
Tuesday, March 1, 2011; 12:08 PM

The threat of a federal government shutdown has recededed, but if one does occu, polling data shows that Americans are split on who to hold accountable:

Thirty-six percent say Republicans would be at fault if the two sides cannot reach a budget deal in time to avert a temporary stoppage of government services, and just about as many, 35 percent, say primary responsibility would rest with the Obama administration. Nearly one in five say the two camps would be equally culpable.

Obama and congressional leaders are on the verge of passing an interim spending bill to keep federal agencies open through March 18, giving themselves an extra two weeks to try to craft a longer-term bill that would fund the government for the remainder of fiscal 2011. The poll results suggest that neither side would likely have much to gain politically in the near term from allowing the government to close.

The new numbers contrast with a Post-ABC poll taken just before the brief November 1995 shutdown, which was followed by a three-week closure of many agencies. There are similarities between then and now: In both cases, a new Republican-led Congress clashed with a Democratic president who was in the second half of his first term.

But in 1995, when Bill Clinton was president, 46 percent said they would blame House Speaker Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans for the impending stoppage, compared with 27 percent who said Clinton would be at fault.

An unknown quantity in the negotiations is the large Republican freshman class:

These 87 new members - who otherwise might have become foot soldiers for party bosses, or jittery pawns of their home-town tea party groups - have instead coalesced into a bloc with its own ideas and a headstrong sense of its muscle.

As Republicans and Democrats try to cut a short-term budget deal this week - and a more permanent one in coming weeks - the freshmen are the wild card. They have the power to derail the whole process. Again.

But even their own leaders don't know if they will.

The freshmen's willingness to do things their way stems from their hyper-confident vision of themselves, revealed in interviews in recent days with more than 30 members of the group. Many described their job as a "calling," a sense that their grandchildren, their country or their God needed them to make hard decisions to right the government's finances.

Republicans are not alone in their uncertainy. Felician Sonmez found top Democrats split on whether to accept the two week extension for federal spending:

House Democratic leaders are at odds over a Republican-sponsored measure that would keep the government funded for two weeks while enacting $4 billion in cuts, many of which are favored by President Obama.

House Democratic caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) told reporters Tuesday morning that he was planning to vote in favor of the measure Tuesday afternoon, while Democratic caucus Vice-Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said he is opposed.

The difference of opinion between the two top Democrats comes three days after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a statement criticizing the Republican measure, saying it "is not a good place to start."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), meanwhile, said last week through a spokesman that he was "encouraged" by the Republican plan, noting that it "sounds like a modified version of what Democrats were talking about."

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