The Aftermath of a Government Shutdown is What Really Counts

capital hill shutdown

Both parties have been hurling accusations today as the government moves toward a likely shutdown at 12:01am tonight. Republicans are desperate to pin a potential shutdown on Democrats, but opinion polls show that the public blames the GOP by a 20 percent margin. There is much to say about the question of who is to blame, but the political fallout from a shutdown will be revealed most clearly in its aftermath. How a deal is struck, and when, will be of critical importance.

Every day that the government is shuttered, pressure will be mounting on congressional leaders and President Trump to come to a consensus. Already Trump’s Twitter finger has, on two occasions, proven a treacherous variable in the GOP’s attempts to strike deals. With the added stress of popular opinion declining during a government shutdown, Trump’s unpredictable responses could continue to wreak havoc.

But, there is no doubt that a deal will eventually be made. Economic losses and public outrage will at some point reach a boiling point. (Government shutdowns generally get sorted out after a few days, with the longest shutdown in history lasting 21 days under Bill Clinton.) Which party ultimately makes concessions to the other will result in obvious political consequences.

In 2013, under Obama, the government shutdown had sharply negative consequences for Republicans. Deep divisions in the GOP were exposed when Tea Party Republicans insisted on withholding funding for the Affordable Care Act. Polls showed public opinion toward the Republican party falling to its lowest level ever, while the public’s view of the Affordable Care Act actually became more favorable during the period the shutdown.

Unlike Obamacare in 2013, the DACA program and the Children’s Health Insurance Program enjoy fervent support among the public. Over 70 percent of the population supports a path to citizenship for DREAMers, and a solid two-thirds of the public approve of a government shutdown as a means to ensure that CHIP is funded. Meanwhile, the border wall that Trump insists on has the support of only 35 percent of Americans.  

The bargaining chips that Republicans have chosen are just not strategically viable. But their stubbornness endures, and Trump remains as starved as ever for victories.