To the extent that people are paying attention, there seems to be a major disconnect between the American people and the politicians in Washington.
A new poll by Scott Rasmussen released Friday finds that 57 percent of likely U.S. voters think that “making deeper spending cuts in the federal budget for 2011 is more important than avoiding a partial government shutdown.” Only a third, 31 percent, said that avoiding a shutdown was more important while 12 percent said they were not sure which mattered more. [Check out a roundup of political cartoons on the federal budget and deficit.]
“Republicans want to make more spending cuts in the current budget than Democrats do,” Rasmussen reported, “but 36 percent of voters think it would be better to avoid a government shutdown by authorizing spending at a level most Democrats will agree to. Fifty-seven percent would rather have a shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on deeper spending cuts.”
For those who think the idea of shutting the government down on principle is not a hill worth dying on, these numbers may come as something of a shock.
The prevailing wisdom in the nation’s capital is that the 1995 shutdown did more to hurt the GOP than it did to hurt the Democrats or President Bill Clinton, who was re-elected to a second term the following year, but by less than 50 percent of the popular vote. This analysis, however, ignores the fact that the shutdown proved the Republicans were committed to spending cuts. Indeed, the shutdown was followed by a shift in the trend line that put the federal government on the path toward a balanced budget and a surplus in just a few years.
Second, despite the appearance of being politically damaging, the voters again opted to keep the GOP in charge of Congress for another two years, making it the first time since the 1920s when a GOP-controlled House won re-election.
Rasmussen, in his analysis of the numbers, points out that what he calls “the political class” holds an opinion different from that held by mainstream voters. “Fifty-two percent of the political class say avoiding a shutdown is more important than deeper spending cuts. Sixty-five percent of mainstream voters put more emphasis on spending cuts,” Rasmussen said. [See who donates the most money to your member of Congress.]
In the survey, 76 percent of the political class said it would be better to avoid a shutdown by authorizing spending “at a level most Democrats would agree to” while “66 percent of those in the mainstream would rather see a shutdown until deeper spending cuts can be agreed on.”
It is odd, therefore, that the Democrats—in rooting for a shutdown—are strangely in agreement with the mainstream while the Republicans, who are determined to show they can govern effectively, are siding with the political class, all be it for dramatically different reasons.
President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and the rest are playing politics while House Speaker John Boehner and his team are trying to solve a problem. It’s no wonder it is proving so hard for them all to get together on the same page.