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Politics & Policy

Are Democrats Certain They’re Going to Emerge Unscathed from a Shutdown?

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Are Democrats Certain They’re Going to Emerge Unscathed from a Shutdown?

Government shutdowns happen when one side is convinced they can’t lose. They feel like almost all of the blame for the shutdown will end up assigned to the other political party, and that thus they can demand considerable concessions, because time is on their side.

The side that feels that way in these fights is usually the Democrats, and they have good reason to feel that way. Democrats “won” the government shutdown fights in the mid-1990s, and they would have won the one in 2013 if they hadn’t followed the reopening of the government with the launch of Healthcare.gov, the highly-touted, extraordinarily expensive online platform to buy health insurance… that didn’t work.

The reason Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer feels so confident is because he is convinced that the media will echo the narrative he prefers. That narrative is roughly, “caring, common-sense Democrats want to keep the government open, but the cruel, cold-hearted Republicans want to destroy the DACA program and deport all of these adorable moppets and inspiring high school valedictorians.”

Schumer is so confident, Democrats filibustered a continuing resolution that would keep the government open and fund the Children’s Health Insurance Program for six years. There were 50 votes in favor of that continuing resolution, without Senator McConnell voting. The 50 included Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin, W.Va.; Joe Donnelly, Ind.; Heidi Heitkamp, N.D.; and Claire McCaskill, Mo. – all up for reelection in 2018 in Trump states – and newly-elected Sen. Doug Jones, D-Alabama. Four Republicans voted no: Sens. Lindsey Graham, S.C; Rand Paul, Ky.; Mike Lee, Utah; and Jeff Flake, Ariz.

The fact that red-state Democrats didn’t want to launch a shutdown over DACA probably ought to make other Democrats nervous. The public support for DACA is probably akin to the public support for innocuously-worded gun control proposals: a mile wide but an inch deep. On Friday, a poll from CNN indicated Americans didn’t want a government shutdown to preserve DACA: “Still, 56 percent overall say approving a budget agreement to avoid a shutdown is more important than continuing the DACA program, while just 34 percent choose DACA over a shutdown. Democrats break narrowly in favor of DACA — 49 percent say it’s more important vs. 42 percent who say avoiding a shutdown is the priority — while majorities of both Republicans (75 percent) and independents (57 percent) say avoiding a shutdown is more important.”

This morning, the Politico/Morning Consult poll showed similar numbers.  When asked whether it was worth shutting down the government to ensure passage of a bill “that grants young people who were brought to the United States illegally when they were children, often with their parents, protection from deportation,” the sample split evenly, 42 percent to 42 percent.

The numbers on blame aren’t that much of an advantage for Democrats, either: “more voters would blame Republicans in Congress for the government shutdown, 41 percent, than would blame Democrats, 36 percent. Democratic and Republican voters, by wide margins, held the other side responsible. But more independents said they would blame Republicans, 34 percent, than Democrats, 27 percent.”

You don’t have to look that hard to find Democrats wondering if they’re making the right calculation. The people hit hardest by a government shutdown, federal workers, are a Democratic constituency, and it’s not clear how much economic anxiety they’re willing to endure for the DACA program. (See below.) Democrats are expecting a constituency that does vote for them (federal workers) to take a hit for a constituency that, at least under current law, cannot vote for them (DACA kids). If the shutdown stretches on, federal workers who live in Virginia and Maryland will notice soon that Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin had a chance to vote to send them back to work and didn’t.

David Leonhardt, writing in the New York Times: “The smart move now for Democrats is to accept a short-term funding bill that ends the shutdown and diffuses the tension.”

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