In a statement this afternoon, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor acknowledged what top Republicans have hesitated to acknowledge since they won back the majority in November: a government shutdown is a real possibility and, he says, the country will blame Democrats if that happens.
“In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over these sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable,” Cantor said.
Through all the twists and turns of the spending cut fight, Republicans have been loathe to admit the real possibility of a government shutdown. For the last several months, they’ve brushed aside questions about the risk, insisted they truly want to avoid one, trained their caucus to keep quiet about it, and pointed out that Democrats (and reporters) have been the only people on the Hill talking up this possibility.
But now Republicans have been dragged across the event horizon. Or so it seems. They’re prepared to reject a fledgling White House spending cut plan, which includes cuts to both discretionary and mandatory spending. Democrats say they will not negotiate backwards from the much farther-reaching House position, but Republicans say that’s a predicate for reaching an agreement. And if there is a shutdown, these developments raise another question: will Republicans take a page out of their 2010 election playbook and attack Democrats for pushing cuts to entitlement programs.
Politically, this is dangerous territory for Republicans. They need Democrats to pass any budget that the Senate will accept and the President will sign. So they’re trying to maximize the Republican position in these negotiations without triggering a shutdown. But if they overplay their hand, and the government shuts down, it’s unclear who’ll be caught in the political fallout. In private conversations, Republicans say they know it’s tough to win a PR campaign when the other party has a bigger bully pulpit. They’re may be about to find out. Full statement below.
“Senator Reid failed to pass a budget last year and once again is abandoning his responsibility to offer a credible plan to cut spending and fund the government for the rest of the year. The Reid/Schumer leadership team has failed to take our fiscal crisis seriously, as members of their own Democratic caucus have pointed out.
“Our federal government borrows nearly forty cents of each dollar it spends, yet Senate Democrats want to keep spending money that we don’t have. It is clear that because Senator Reid refuses to make any spending cuts, he instead plans to force a massive future tax hike on families and small business people.
“In the scope of our debt crisis, if Senator Reid and Senator Schumer force the government to partially shut down over these sensible spending cuts, Americans will hold them accountable.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.