Shutdown Politics: On Day One, The Posturing Continues

Republicans and Democrats spent the day playing to public opinion, and digging in for the long haul.

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On Day One of the shutdown, Republicans and Democrats agreed on one thing: their party was right.

Politicians cheered party solidarity Tuesday, while acknowledging the damage they are causing by their inability to reach agreement. “Democratic unity is as strong as ever,” boasted Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon. “And that is a great thing, because it means that there’s hope. The bad news about today is, of course, that many innocent people were hurt.”

“It’s an enormous victory,” said an aide to Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah), who was instrumental in crafting the Republican party’s plan to tie defunding the Affordable Care Act to the government spending bill. “It’s unfortunate that it has resulted in a temporary government shutdown, but it’s an enormous victory in that we have for the first time in more than a year…been talking about Obamacare in a very substantive way.”

With much of the federal bureaucracy closed, House Republicans abruptly changed course Tuesday, proposing to reopen narrow—but popular—sections of the government, timing debate on the votes to coincide with the nightly news. The GOP proposed funding parts of the Department of Veterans Affairs, national parks, and the District of Columbia in hopes of alleviating some of the most visible and painful aspects of a shutdown.

Earlier Tuesday, World War II veterans bypassed barriers to access the National World War II Memorial with the encouragement of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). The National Zoo’s “panda cams” went dark. D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray last week to deem all of the city’s activities “essential” to shield government workers from the shutdown, although it is still unclear if he will be successful.

The votes, brought up under a fast-track procedure requiring a two-thirds margin, failed in the House, with Democrats withholding the required votes.

Even before House members voted, Majority Leader Harry Reid opposed the narrow funding measures on the floor and the White House announced President Obama would veto them if they came to his desk.

“Now they are focusing on cherry picking the few parts of government they like,” Reid said. Referring to the National Institute of Health, where nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed, Reid said, “We can’t be forced to choose between parks and cancer research.”

The Republican strategy marked an attempt to turn the tables on Democrats after a 24-hour drubbing in the media. Despite Tuesday’s failure, the House will push ahead Wednesday with at least two more targeted funding measures, including one to reinstate funding for the National Institutes of Health. Polls consistently show the GOP is being blamed by the public in the case of a government shutdown. It is also a tacit admission that there is no end in sight to the government shutdown. With negotiations non-existent, the Senate called it a day Tuesday before 7 p.m., and the White House is laying the groundwork for the long haul, scheduling an event for Obama on Thursday at a Washington construction company to pressure Congress to re-open the government.

Republican leadership aides said they expected more piece-meal votes, the intent being to criticize Democrats for voting down popular government services, without caving on their demand to delay the Obamacare individual mandate for a year.

“The President can’t continue to complain about the impact of government shutdown on veterans, visitors at National Parks, and DC while vetoing bills to help them,” said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker of the House John Boehner. “The White House is unsustainably hypocritical.”

In fact, that strategy has worked before. Under assault from the White House for blocking efforts to lift the mandatory spending cuts known as sequestration, Republicans joined with Democrats to quickly push through a fix allowing the Federal Aviation Administration to avoid furloughing air traffic controllers after just days of painful flight delays. Obama signed the bill, and the White House came to regret it, as the highly visible problem and solution distracted focus from the lingering sequestration cuts.

Senate Democratic leadership believes a short-term resolution keeping funding levels constant would keep the government open and allow time for the two sides to come to a conclusion on how to fund the government. The Republican House leadership argues that since President Obama delayed the implementation of some elements of the Affordable Care Act, including the employer mandate, the individual mandate should be delayed for a year.

The differences could be resolved in a House-Senate conference, the usual process for hammering out differences which Democrats say Speaker Boehner has blocked all year. But it is the Speaker who introduced the notion Monday, albeit right before the shutdown deadline. While the Senate Democratic leadership tabled the proposal Tuesday, Reid said he would consider a longer term funding measure if Boehner first passed the Senate’s resolution to reopen the government without preconditions.

Looming over the crisis is the need to raise the nation’s debt limit by October 17, a far more serious crisis that threatens the nation’s ability to meet its financial obligations. Twenty four hours into a shutdown, aides in both parties appeared to give up hope on a swift reopening of the government, predicting a drawn out funding lapse to combine the two fiscal imperatives.