Both parties dig in heels as shutdown continues
As the sun sets on the first day of the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years, the partisan divides in Washington and in the region are hardening — with no end in sight.
Some of Missouri’s members of Congress, in both parties, have laid off staff, closed district offices or are declining to accept their own pay. Others are keeping their pay and trying to keep their operations running as usual.
And while some are trading jabs over who should take the blame for the shutdown, others are emphasizing the issue — Obamacare — that generated the Republican fight to begin with.
For example: U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo, delivered a 10-minute floor speech Tuesday that focused largely on his objections to the Affordable Care Act, passed by Congress in 2010. Although some provisions have already been in effect, the insurance exchanges — a major component — opened Tuesday for business online.
At a news conference later, Blunt blasted the technical problems that plagued the exchanges in some states, citing the troubles as evidence of the program’s failure.
Blunt’s focus on Obamacare, rather than the shutdown, came amid sharp criticism from tea party activists since late last week, when he cast a procedural vote that they viewed as counter to the effort to repeal the ACA, also known as Obamacare. An anti-Blunt protest had been planned for Saturday’s regional conservative CPAC gathering in St. Charles, but he stayed in Washington. Even so, some speakers delivered cloaked criticisms aimed at him.
McCaskill, Wagner, Smith withhold own pay
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is joining two area Republicans — U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner of Ballwin and Jason Smith of Salem — in having their pay "withheld’" during the shutdown. The Constitution bars them from having their pay cut, but all three said they plan to give that portion of their salary to charity when government operations are restored.
All three also have furloughed at least some of their staff, as has Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth. And they've closed some or most of their district offices.
Blunt is retaining all of his staff, which he classified as "essential,’" so they will stay at work and be paid. U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, says he also has declared all of his staff essential, so that none will be furloughed.
Clay issued one of the harshest statements condemning the shutdown, which he blamed on GOP “anarchists.”
"House Republicans proved that they hate the president more than they love their country,” Clay said, referring to the House majority’s insistence that any budget bill — called a continuing resolution — include provisions curbing or delaying Obamacare. "The Republican government shutdown is outrageous."
Meanwhile, Wagner has arguably become Missouri’s most visible House Republican — appearing on a flurry of news shows to defend her party’s views and to blame Democrats for the shutdown.
Wagner's statement on Tuesday echoed what she had been saying on TV: “Time and time again, the House voted in bipartisan fashion to keep the government open and provide fairness to all Americans. Fairness from an administration who believes they can pick and choose which laws to enforce, while subjecting the American people to the heavy burdens of Obamacare.”
Polls show early threat to Republicans
Early polls indicate that it’s the Republicans who may face the most political risk. A nonpartisan national poll by Quinnipiac University, released Tuesday, showed that 72 percent of those polled opposed shutting down the federal government to block implementation of Obamacare.
The opposition was also strong – about 2-to-1 – when it came to using the looming fight to increase the debt limit to block the health insurance program.
However, the poll also showed that the public remains almost evenly divided over Obamacare – a fact that could help Republicans if problems emerge as the program go into effect. (The GOP also benefits from a majority of U.S. House districts that have been drawn in the last two years to be solidly Republican.)
While the poll indicated that Democrats held an edge in public opinion, that fact is not too heartening since a solid majority of those polled gave poor ratings to both parties and President Barack Obama.
Of those polled, only 17 percent approved of the Republicans’ performance in Congress, compared to a 32 percent approval rating for the Democrats and a 45 percent rating for the president.
Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said all the players in Washington face political risks. But for the moment, the Republicans may have the worst hand.
"It's early," Robertson said. "Pressure is building within the Republican Party between the more moderate Republicans and the pretty, hard-core conservatives. Whether or that will have any impact on the way this plays out — especially as pressure builds everyday on everyone in government to try to resolve this issue — remains to be seen."
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