Monitor displays a live feed of Representative Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, speaking during a House-Senate conference meeting on the Republican led tax reform bill at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Aaron P. Bernstein/Bloomberg)

Republicans Have More to Lose in a Shutdown

(Bloomberg View) -- The story of the shutdown showdown remains the same halfway through the two-week extension Congress passed to keep the government open: There's still no good reason for the government to close when it again runs out of funding on Dec. 22, but various Republicans might wind up doing it anyway.

It's still the case that shutdowns (beyond a few hours, or perhaps over a weekend when it has minimal effect) don't happen by accident. They happen because one side in the negotiations sees some gain if the government closes its doors.

House Republicans' latest plan is to pass a bill that would fund the Pentagon at the levels they want for the remainder of the fiscal year while extending domestic spending at last year's levels for four more weeks. Democrats immediately said they would oppose it. After all, the core issue here is whether national security and other spending will grow at the same pace, and the Republicans' bill would give their party its biggest request without giving very much to Democrats. So Democrats would vote no in the House and kill the bill by filibuster in the Senate if Mitch McConnell brings it up as is.

Presumably, at that point Republicans would back off, agree to a temporary funding bill that doesn't resolve any of the remaining issues in favor of either side, and go back to the bargaining table. 

However, there are hints that some Republicans are tempted to let the government close and blame it on the Democrats and their opposition to increased defense budgets. 

This is a very bad idea. As Congress scholar Josh Huder said:

Josh Huder @joshHuder
House GOP backing Senate Democrats into a corner. Will pass defense bill & CR for other 11 approps bills, attemptin…
Twitter: Josh Huder on Twitter

It's vaguely possible Republicans might "win" a battle of public opinion about responsibility for a Christmas government shutdown. In periods of divided government, the president has quite a few public-opinion advantages in such battles. The president speaks with one voice; Congress doesn't, and it can often wind up sending conflicting messages. And Congress is always unpopular. 

That's probably not enough this time. Republicans have majorities in both chambers and the White House, so people naturally hold them responsible for everything (even if, in cases of filibusters, they can't necessarily do what they want). Donald Trump is highly unpopular, and to the extent Congress is, too, that doesn't necessarily work in the favor of the majority party, even if it's being denied by filibuster. And the basic Republican cause here is a problem, too: Spending on social programs usually polls better than military spending. 

The real clincher, though, is that it's easy for the "neutral" media to pin the blame on whichever side said it wanted a shutdown. And while Democrats have said they would fight hard for their demands, Trump is the main one who has flirted with wanting the government to close down. That's likely to be the clincher. 

Even if Republicans won according to the polling, it's still not clear they would be helping themselves. Trump and congressional Republicans might lose support even if people put more blame on the Democrats, because Trump and the Republicans are the more prominent names. Even in 1994-1995, when people blamed Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans for extended shutdowns, Bill Clinton's approval ratings sagged until the ordeal ended. Plus, any damage to the economy would almost certainly hurt Republicans, not Democrats, in November. 

Still, it's no big deal for both sides to posture right up to the deadline. That's probably all that's going on right now. Ultimately, while there are major policy questions that are affected by spending amounts, there's still no reason in principle for one group that wants a higher number to fail to compromise with another group that wants a lower one. Unless, of course, one side doesn't want to reach a compromise.

1. Very good Elaine Kamarck piece about all those empty desks in the executive branch and why Trump is harming himself by not filling them. 

2. Alan Abramowitz estimates that Democrats need to win the national House vote by about 4 percentage points to get to 218 House seats (and a majority). 

3. Dan Drezner is starting to panic about the Trump administration and North Korea.

4. Adrienne LeBas at the Monkey Cage on Zimbabwe after Robert Mugabe

5. Benjamin Wittes on Republican conspiracy-mongering about the FBI and more.

6. Reid Wilson on the danger for Republicans in state legislatures in the 2018 elections.  

7. Nate Cohn thinks the majority in the Senate is a toss-up in 2018. I still would give Republicans the advantage, but it's certainly a possibility now. 

8. And David Leonhardt, Ian Prasad Philbrick and Stuart A. Thompson count presidential lies in the last two administrations

Get Early Returns every morning in your inbox. Click here to subscribe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

To contact the author of this story: Jonathan Bernstein at

For more columns from Bloomberg View, visit

©2017 Bloomberg L.P.