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April 8, 2011 / Political Fluency

It is Madness to Shut the Government Down

You can see who has more leeway to work with.

Congressional Approval (Black is Approve, Red is Disapprove)

Obama’s Approval (Black is Approve, Red is Disapprove)

While most of the nation’s businesses and families are struggling to keep their heads above water, the federal government may have to shut down at midnight tonight.

There’s no reason for the Democrats to not sign the one-week extension, which should really be a two-week extension so both sides aren’t in this position 5 days from now. But the Democrats aren’t the ones who are going to look bad. It will be the Republicans that will come out poorly just like when Newt Gingrich shut down the government in 1995. It allowed Bill Clinton to look like the more moderate and reasonable of the two men and he began to build momentum to easily win reelection for the Presidency the next year.

Dick Morris – a Clinton advisor at the time who is now an outspoken conservative pundit – wrote the following a month ago in a piece entitled “How to Shut the Government Down”:

The central problem confronting the Republicans is that they seek a panoply of cuts ranging all across the federal budget. Their desired $61 billion of reductions ($100 billion annualized) go into practically every area of discretionary spending. There is no way to describe them in a sound bite.

And, when they cannot tell voters what the cuts are about, the electorate always imagines the worst. People assume the GOP is cutting Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, unemployment benefits, Headstart, and every other popular program.

Instead, Republicans must do the opposite: concentrate their cuts on two or three vulnerable programs or agencies while leaving all the others totally untouched.

For example, the federal government spends $40 billion a year on highway construction. About one-quarter of that amount is for highway repair and maintenance, necessary for safety. But the other three-quarters ($30 billion a year) are for new highways. The Republicans should zero fund new construction and say that America needs a three year moratorium on new highway construction. Repair and maintain what we have, but we will have to do without new federal roads for the next year to save $30 billion. It’s a tradeoff, they should say, but we need deficit reduction more than we need the new roads.

Other prominent candidates for zero funding are Obama’s National Infrastructure Innovation and Finance Fund a pork barrel construction project ($4 billion a year) and his Build America Bonds which provide for a federal subsidy to states and localities to pay the interest and principal on their bonds for infrastructure ($11.5 billion a year).

This is classic punditry. A person’s eyes get crossed with this litany. The average voter doesn’t follow politics this closely. All they will see is Government Shutdown and remember that Republicans won in November. Most of the blame will go toward the Tea Party and Republicans in the same breath.

As for the Democrats: the American public does not believe the government works. They will not completely escape the blame for a shutdown. The 2012 landscape will still be favorable to Republican candidates and given the continued importance of fiscal issues this might come up against any incumbent candidate.

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