To hear the politicians in Washington tell it, the looming government shutdown is all the other side's fault. With the shutdown only hours away, the narratives of the Democrats and the Republicans have become nearly identical as they hurl the same accusations at each other: arguing that the government is being held "hostage" by the opposition's ideological inflexibility and bullheadedness. Perhaps most important, there is evidence that the deadlock is taking a toll on trust in government.
The House, controlled by Republicans, approved a measure over the weekend that would pay for the government for a few more weeks but delay funding for the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's signature initiative, by one year, and repeal a tax on medical devices. Democrats who control the Senate say they won't go along with the health care delay, and President Obama says he would veto the House measure if it reached his desk. This means the House and Senate seem likely to remain deadlocked for the indefinite future and a shutdown is likely to occur starting Tuesday.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a conservative firebrand, told NBC: "If we have a shutdown, it will be because [Senate Democratic Leader] Harry Reid holds [an] absolutist position and essentially holds the American people hostage. He says, 'I'm not willing to compromise. I'm not willing to even talk.' His position is, 100 percent of Obamacare must be funded in all instances. Other than that, he's going to shut the government down."
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., told CBS that Obama is "saying 100 percent of Obamacare or the highway. The president's the one saying, 'I will shut down government if you don't give me everything I want on Obamacare.' That, to me, is the president being intransigent and being unwilling to compromise."
Reid, a Nevada Democrat, held firm, declaring, "The American people will not be extorted by tea party anarchists." And Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP is to blame for the deadlock. "Millions of innocent people are held hostage if we don't fund the government," Schumer told NBC.
Last week, Obama accused majority Republicans in the House of "blackmail" because they passed an initial measure to continue funding for the government but suspend funding for his health care law.
The last time there was a government shutdown was in 1996, when a budget stalemate resulted in a three-week funding hiatus.
Meanwhile, the Gallup poll finds that trust in government is weak, in part because many Americans believe Washington has become dysfunctional. Only 34 percent of Americans trust Congress, the same as in 2012 and only three points above the historical low of 31 percent in 2011. The current congressional rating is also down 28 points from 62 percent in 2005.
Fifty-one percent trust the executive branch, an improvement from 47 percent in 2011 and from the historical low of 40 percent in 1974, during the Watergate scandal. This suggests that President Obama may have a credibility advantage in the current blame game.
"Trust in the executive and legislative branches of the federal government may be most closely tied to Americans' perceptions of how things are going in the country and how well the government is addressing the problems it has to face," said a spokesman for Gallup on an analysis that accompanied the research organization's report on the polling results.
"Americans' trust in the federal government's ability to handle domestic and international problems are both at historical lows. If the federal government is unable to pass a federal budget to avoid a government shutdown, or reach an agreement to raise the federal debt limit in the coming weeks, trust is likely to continue to erode further."
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at email@example.com and on Facebook and Twitter.