How to Assign Blame. The Politics of the Shutdown.
The big question I keep hearing, from TV pundits to lunch companions to my favorite bar-mates, is “Who is going to get the blame for the government shutdown—Republicans or Democrats?”
With the shutdown about to go into its second week as I write this, I’m not sure I agree with the conventional wisdom that the GOP will get big blame, providing it all ends quickly. The polls show a narrow negative for the Republicans, which, should it all end soon, is unlikely to have major consequences when the real end game takes place election day, November 2014.
That’s when the potential for change in the Congress occurs. At present, House Republicans have 232 seats, the Dems have 200 with 3 vacant seats. The Dems need a very difficult net pickup of 18 seats to regain the House—that’s the wet dream of every liberal in America, providing the senate stays Democratic.
The upper house breakdown will be—assuming Cory Booker wins his New Jersey seat this month—53 Dems plus two independents who caucus with them and 45 Reps, who must win a net 6 seats to put Harry Reid out of a job. That’s tough but feasible—a similar moist reverie for conservatives. (In case of a 50-50 tie, the Democratic Vice President is the tiebreaker.)
To return to my hypothesis, there is a kind of Republican elation at having caused so much trouble with so little negative backlash at the moment. Of course no one knows how to end the shutdown without looking like a loser.
The issue is, not enough visible people have been hurt badly enough yet. Poor kids and women losing food stamps? Heck, they are either too young to vote or vote Democratic anyway. Furloughed government employees? Not yet enough to sting.
But as time goes on, more of the financially injured will come to the surface, even in conservative districts. More ordinary citizens will grow more disgusted—as during Newt Gingrich’s shutdown in the Clinton era.
Just as in 2008-9, the economic pain will grow and we’ll all know someone who lost a job or a home. Disgust will grow into rage and GOP numbers will drop precipitously.
Then consider the effect if the GOP takes us to the brink of economic collapse by refusing to raise the debt limit. It will take mere days for everyone to notice their IRAs and 401Ks and other holdings slide rapidly downhill. The party will have a very hard time blaming the Dems for that.
With that state of affairs the game changes. Barring some remarkable surprise, netting 18 house seats will appear more in range, considering there are some 52 seats (Democratic or Republican) considered to be somewhat in play. Senate losses might be limited to two or maybe three seats.
This is not a prediction, just an analysis of potential. Wise Republicans will recognize it, move to end the shutdown and raise the debt limit. The real question is, will congress’s wise men and women move quickly enough to vote against the wise-asses?
Don Rose is a regular columnist for the Chicago Daily Observer