Government Shutdown: Expect it or worse, says Abramowitz

Sep. 25, 2013

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Beverly Clark
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beverly.clark@emory.edu

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Alan Abramowitz

As the budget showdown in Washington, D.C., intensifies before the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, Emory University political scientist Alan Abramowitz says a government shutdown isn't the only worry in the District.  

"More ominously, GOP leaders in the House of Representatives, responding to growing pressure from conservatives within their own caucus, are now threatening to refuse to agree to an increase in the debt ceiling which will be necessary before the end of October for the government to continue paying its bills," says Abramowitz, a national political expert.  "This could lead to the first-ever default by the United States on its debt with potentially far-reaching economic consequences."   

He says the push by some Republicans in the House of Representatives to defund the Affordable Care Act is part of a range of actions designed to please the Republican base, but it may dim their appeal in next year's midterm elections when control of both the House and Senate are up for grabs.  

"Polls show that most voters would probably blame the GOP more than congressional Democrats or the White House in the event of a government shutdown, as they did the last time such a confrontation occurred under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s," Abramowitz says.   

"And if Republicans are seen as responsible for a default on the debt, that could be even more damaging to the party," he adds.  "It's a high-stakes game of chicken, and Americans will be watching over the next few weeks to see which side blinks first."  

Who will they follow, Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz?  

Andra Gillespie

Andra Gillespie

Emory University political science professor Andra Gillespie says Republicans' ideal scenario is forcing President Obama to veto a budget that defunds the Affordable Care Act, thereby making him bear the blame for a government shutdown. But they don't have the ideal conditions for that plan to succeed.  

"In general, using the budget as a bargaining chip in the ongoing fight over the Affordable Care Act is a risky move," says Gillespie, an expert in political mobilization and race. "While recent surveys show that a majority of Americans oppose Obamacare, a majority also oppose using healthcare to hold up the budget process."  

She says that while some establishment Republicans like Mitch McConnell want to stop the implementation of Obamacare, they don't want Americans to perceive them as holding the budget hostage.  

"The big question this week is whether Senate Republicans will follow McConnell or support Ted Cruz, who wants to use the filibuster to try to preserve the integrity of the House budget continuation which defunds the Affordable Care Act."