Polls: Americans Strongly Oppose Government Shutdown

Posted: Sep 24, 2013 12:45 PM

No surprises here -- but a worthwhile reminder, given that the current "defund Obamacare" strategy relies on (a) Republicans filibustering a Republican bill, and (b) a prolonged government shutdown. The former move would be awfully difficult to explain, and easy for Democrats to ridicule; the latter would receive a decidedly chilly reception from John Q. Public:

An overwhelming majority of Americans prefer the Senate’s approach to the government-funding negotiations: 63 percent said Congress should “provide the funding to keep the government operating and deal with the health care issue separately.” Only 27 percent said “only fund the continuing operations of the federal government if Obama agrees to delay or withdraw his health care plan.”Even Republicans are skeptical of the House GOP’s approach. A majority, 51 percent, said Congress should keep the two issues separate, while 42 percent said a continuing resolution should be passed only if Obama agrees to defund the health care law.

Obamacare is deeply unpopular, but Americans want Congress to address it separately, not as part of a negotiation that could culminate in a shutdown. The National Journal isn't an outlier, either. The survey reflects what CNBC's pollsters published just yesterday, including a data point indicating that a majority of Republicans oppose a "defund-or-shut-er-down" approach. The best play Congressional Republicans have at this point is to force yeas and nays on popular delay measures -- within the context of voting to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, while extracting other concessions -- then use Democrats' votes against them in 2014. Obamacare stays put unless Republicans win elections. But it's not all doom and gloom on the polling front for the GOP. They've made significant gains on issues like healthcare, and the president's approval is underwater on almost every major issue. Furthermore, the public's lopsided inclination to place blame for a potential shutdown squarely on Republicans' shoulders has actually dissipated considerably. Jump ball, via Pew?

A month before the 1995 shutdown, Pew notes, 46 percent of the public said they’d blame the GOP if it happened versus 27 percent who said they’d blame Clinton. Fast-forward to this week and the public’s more ambivalent: 39 percent would blame the GOP and 36 percent would blame O’s administration, with 17 percent saying both would deserve blame.

The National Journal poll cited above confirms the trend: "In an encouraging development for nervous GOP apparatchiks, if a shutdown occurs, the survey showed the public is poised to blame President Obama as much as House Republicans." The good news for Boehner and McConnell is that if a deal isn't reached by next week, the public is prepared to allocate roughly as much blame to Obama as to Republicans on the Hill. But ultimately, Americans despise the notion of a shutdown because it reeks of dysfunction. The "defund" scheme only works (in theory) if 41 Republican Senators filibuster their own bill, triggering a shutdown so long and painful that Obama is eventually forced to cry 'uncle' on the centerpiece of his domestic policy legacy. Does anyone believe the GOP would still be neck-and-neck with Obama in, say, week four of a stand-off? Remember, even most self-identified Republicans don't support a shutdown threat over Obamacare. Thomas Sowell is right: The result would be a political rout, with Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi reaping the benefits.

It seems as though most members of the Senate GOP conference see this train coming, and would prefer not to enter into a game of chicken that they will most assuredly lose. The top two Republicans in the upper chamber, Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn, have both explicitly rejected the Cruz plan. Many others will follow. Unless things get really acrimonious, the politics actually work out decently for both conservative factions: Cruz, Lee, Rubio et al can genuinely say, "we tried everything within our power to do this," and the base will be grateful. Their colleagues, though, can accurately tell constituents that they forced a vote on a defunding measure, supported it, and cornered Democrats into going on the record (again) to maintain funding. Last but not least, President Obama's position on the upcoming debt ceiling fight is ripe for attack. The American people are worried about debt, oppose extending the government's borrowing limit, and demand compromise. Obama is on the wrong side of all of those sentiments. He's a binge spender, a debt denialist, a debt ceiling hypocrite, and is ostentatiously refusing to even negotiate. Republicans should highlight his intransigence whenever possible. This isn't a bad start:

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