Published December 20, 2015
While the House and Senate point fingers at each other over the budget impasse, new polling suggests the only thing they might accomplish is getting thrown out of office.
Despite a robust campaign by Democrats to pin the blame exclusively on their GOP colleagues, the American public appears fed up with just about every elected member from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to the Capitol dome.
The public sentiment should bring a sense of foreboding for any lawmaker seeking re-election in 2014, with evidence mounting of an anti-incumbent backlash in the making.
Newly released Fox News polls show Congress' approval rating is 13 percent. President Obama's is better, but still not great for a recently re-elected president, at 45 percent. And more people disapprove than approve of either party, though the numbers for Republicans are worse.
As for the budget stalemate, while lawmakers appear to be hunkering down for a long fight, voters are worried it will have a serious impact on them. Fifty-eight percent said they see the partial shutdown as "very" serious.
And neither party is escaping blame.
A quarter of voters blame "Republican leaders such as John Boehner," while another 17 percent blame "Tea Party Republicans such as Ted Cruz." But 24 percent point the finger at Obama. Eight percent blame "Democratic leaders such as Harry Reid." And another 20 percent blame everybody in Washington.
In the shutdowns of 1995-1996, Republicans were mostly blamed in the end, and suffered at the polls. With that experience as the backdrop, Obama and his Democratic allies are making a hard push to paint Republicans with the shutdown brush once again -- using the phrase "Republican government shutdown" with regularity.
The president is noticeably trying to insulate his side from a political backlash.
"I want to make sure everybody understands this because, again, sometimes the tendency is to say, well, both sides are at fault," Obama said at a rally Thursday in Rockville, Md. "This one has nothing to do with deficits or spending or budgets. ... This whole thing is about one thing. The Republican obsessions with dismantling the Affordable Care Act and denying affordable health insurance to millions of Americans."
Democrats, though, may be overconfident. One unnamed senior administration official told The Wall Street Journal that "we are winning. ... it doesn't really matter to us" how long the impasse lasts.
But both parties are bound to feel the political pain if this drags on for weeks. Roughly 800,000 government workers are on furlough without pay, and more are working without pay. Government worker unions could apply increasing pressure on Washington, as well as unions representing contractors and others affected by the government slowdown -- particularly if the budget impasse comes crashing into the deadline to raise the debt ceiling.
No end is in sight, with Obama saying he will not negotiate with Republicans over a short-term spending bill and Republicans demanding ObamaCare-related concessions. House Republicans, meanwhile, are plowing ahead with a series of votes on mini-spending bills for certain priorities, but Senate Democrats are vowing to block them. The House plans to meet again on Saturday to vote on a bill to provide backpay to furloughed workers.
On the Republican side, state-level Republicans are starting to distance themselves from their Washington counterparts, hoping to steer clear of any voter rebellion.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal wrote this week that he won't allow the GOP "to be defined by the dysfunction in Washington."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also blasted the spectacle in Washington.