The Great 2011 Government Shutdown Posture-Off

If the White House and House Republicans can't agree on a budget before March 4, the government will shut down. Who stands to benefit from all this brinkmanship?

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Congress has until March 4 to figure out how to fund the U.S. government. And as of right now, House Republicans and Senate Democrats are more than $60 billion away from a consensus. It's a high stakes game, given that last time the federal government shut down, all sorts of important functions were halted (passport/visa processing, toxic waste cleanup, museums, monuments and 368 national park sites all closed, etc). So who stands to benefit from all this brinkmanship? Here's what the major players are up to:

The Outward Posturing

  • On Saturday, the House passed a resolution to cut spending by $61 billion. But President Obama rejected the proposal immediately and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid advocated a short-term measure to fund the government at current levels.
  • On Wednesday, House Republicans told Politico they plan to pass a two-week stopgap spending bill that keeps the lights on in government past March 4, albeit at reduced spending levels. The plan would pro-rate the $61 in spending cuts resulting in $4 billion in cuts for the first two weeks. Reid has already said that plan's a non-starter, calling it "nothing more than the same extreme package the House already handed the Senate, just with a different bow.”

The Inward Contemplation

So, how do DC partisans think this is going to pan out? National Journal surveyed 200 Democratic and Republican officials, strategists and lobbyists on one simple question: If the government shuts down, does that help your party? The survey shows that 56% of Democrats said "yes" while only 19% of Republicans answered "yes."

"We always think it's a good idea until we do it and get our butt kicked when real people start suffering for it," one GOP insider said.

"A shutdown will force middle income [families] to see how much government does to enhance the lives of ordinary Americans," said one Democratic insider. "So far, Republicans have convinced everyone that government does nothing."

Explaining their mindset, many respondents recalled the 21-day standoff between President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Newt Gingrich between Dec. 15, 1995 and Jan. 5, 1996. During that showdown, 800,000 federal workers were furloughed and Americans blamed House Republicans over Clinton by more than a 2 to 1 margin. However, no historical analogies are perfect, as Time's Michael Crowley points out:

It's possible Republicans have more leverage this time around. The budget deficit in 1995 was $164 billion. This year it will hit nearly $1.5 trillion. The bank bailouts and the $862 billion stimulus plan convinced many voters that government simply can't stop throwing money around.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.