US shutdown analysis: For Republicans, confrontation safer than compromise

Oct 01 2013, 12:00 IST
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SummaryFor Republicans, it may be easier to allow the government to run out of money.

For most Republicans in the House of Representatives, the only greater peril than a shutdown of the federal government over the US budget row would have been fighting to keep it open.

While a shutdown could hurt the Republican Party's ability to win the Senate next year or take the White House in 2016, that's not the concern of party members in the House, who led the push to pair continued government funding with measures that would delay President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law, Obamacare.

"There's a large cohort of members here who don't feel themselves harmed by a bad brand name for the party," said Sarah Binder, an expert on Congress at the Brookings Institution.

Instead, the peril comes from being seen as too flexible.

Republicans won control of the House in 2010 with help from the grassroots Tea Party movement, which combines strident conservatism with a mistrust of Washington dealmaking.

The standing of the movement in public opinion polls has declined somewhat since then, according to a recent nationwide Gallup poll.

Tea Party lawmakers don't run for office nationally, but in districts where they are more secure than ever in their jobs, thanks to careful redistricting after the 2010 census and increased polarization among voters.

The Cook Political Report, a Washington tipsheet, estimates that 205 of the chamber's 232 Republicans can count on a safe re-election race a year from now. Only 11 Republican seats are viewed as competitive.

With little pressure to court centrist voters, Tea Party-aligned Republicans face greater pressure to show conservative activists that they are staying true to their ideological roots than working to keep the government operating effectively.

Thus it may be easier to allow the government to run out of money rather than face accusations that they did not fight hard enough against Obama's Affordable Care Act.

"They're in a much better position when they go home and explain a 'no' vote that they cast as a protest vote against the White House than a 'yes' vote where they have to explain what they voted for," said Kevin Madden, a former Republican House leadership aide.


Republicans stood little chance of emerging victorious from the fight. Obamacare will begin enrolling uninsured Americans as scheduled on Tuesday, and if the government shuts down, voters are likely to blame Republicans.

A CNN poll released on Monday found that 46 percent of those surveyed would hold Republicans responsible, while 36 would blame

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