Budget Bickering Continues After Deal to Stall Shutdown

Democrats think the 1995 shutdown showed voters will blame Republicans. They should take a second look at the historical record

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The House will begin debating today a deal that would prevent a shutdown of the government for an extra two weeks. If Republicans and Democrats can't agree by Friday, many federal employees will be furloughed March 5. But the short-term deal could make a long-term one more difficult, The Wall Street Journal's Naftali Bendavid reports. That's because Republicans are only proposing spending cuts the Democrats feel they can live with in the two-week settlement. But the GOP also wants much broader cuts in funding the government till September 30, the end of the fiscal year and, as Bendavid puts it, going only for the "palatable" cuts in the two-week affair "will make it more difficult to reach a bipartisan agreement on additional cuts when the two sides begin negotiations on a spending measure to fund the government until Sept. 30."

Democrats aren't nuts about even the current proposed slashings--like $650 million from highway spending--but Senate budget committee chair Kent Conrad says he's confident the parties will reach an agreement this week. With the the remaining $57 billion Republicans want to cut, it gets far trickier: Democrats are pointing to a report by Goldman Sachs saying such cuts would slow economic growth by 1.5 percent to 2 percent in the second and third quarters. They also think they have history on their side, remembering how Republicans were punished for the government shutdown 14 years ago.

Conventional wisdom holds that voters blamed Republicans for the government shutdown in 1995, which caused Bill Clinton's poll numbers to rise and then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's to plummet. Today's Republicans buy into that version of history: A recent National Journal poll of Washington "insiders" shows nearly two-thirds of Republicans think a shutdown is not in their party's interest. More than half of Democrats, meanwhile, think they could benefit from a shutdown. But is that true?

Slate's John Dickerson argues that the 1995 shutdown was not as big a GOP fiasco as pundits think. Approval ratings for the Republican-led Congress inched up, and Clinton's didn't change. Perhaps most important, only 8 percent of voters thought the shutdown affected them.

Another fact that should give Democrats pause: The Hill's Erik Wasson reports that 29 percent of likely voters would blame Democrats for a shutdown this year, while 23 percent would blame Republicans. Among independents, the news is worse for Democrats: 34 percent would blame them, and just 19 percent would fault the GOP.

Dickerson argues that the difference is the economy. In 1995, it was good. Today, it is not. Thus, "the country is in a cutting mood. ... Now people are hurting. They trust the government less. They think it could use a trimming." So Democrats should get ready to start cutting.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.