Some Democrats think a federal government shutdown will be a major political boon to their party –- akin to the decisive Clinton-Gingrich war of 1995 — but President Barack Obama isn’t one of them.
White House officials are deeply concerned that even a short interruption in government services, while no economic knockout blow, might slow down a recovery that has just recently gained momentum.
And they believe the political fallout could be even more severe, with Obama – who has positioned himself as the only grown-up in Washington capable of making government work — attracting as much blame as the GOP for presiding over a dysfunctional process, senior Democrats told POLITICO.
“He’s the guy who is supposed to make the deals that keep the bad stuff from happening,” said an Obama ally outside of the West Wing. “If the bad stuff actually does happen, what does that say about his leadership? That’s the concern over there.”
Said another Democrat, who has spoken recently with senior administration officials: “The White House doesn’t want a shutdown and Obama himself really, really doesn’t want a shutdown.”
Mark McKinnon, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and an admirer of Obama’s political skills, put it this way: “There’s always a danger in politics of assuming past is prologue. This is not [the 1990s] and voters may be angry enough today they wouldn’t mind seeing the government shut down if that’s what it takes to get meaningful cuts. The only guarantee when you play chicken is that someone is going to get hurt.”
But many Democratic veterans, including survivors of the late 1995-to-early-1996 shutdown, think Obama has little to fear.
“One of the reasons Bill Clinton was seen as winning the politics of the shutdown was because the man honestly and earnestly wanted to avoid it,” said longtime Clinton adviser Paul Begala.
“He was like Obama, willing to meet the Republicans far more than halfway, often to the point where his own party criticized him… But that’s an advantage [politically]. Obama’s reaching out to these guys, he’s had them over to the White House, they play beer pong, and he proven to people he’s sincere about bipartisanship. That’s why he’ll prevail in a shutdown.