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Time to Compromise? How Republicans and Democrats View the Government Shutdown

A combination file photo shows opponents (L) and supporters (R) of Affordable Healthcare Act rally on the sidewalk at the Supreme Court in Washington (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (L) and Joshua Roberts (R)).

Is the House of Representatives out of touch with the American people?

The founders designed the House to be the national institution closest to the people. But if recent surveys are accurate, that’s no longer true.

This morning, for example, a CBS News poll found that only 25 percent of Americans approve of shutting down the government over differences about Obamacare. Only 48 percent of Republicans approve; 49 percent disapprove. Only 38 percent of Americans who disapprove of Obamacare favor shutting down the government, while 59 percent reject the strategy. Of all the groups studied in the survey, only members of the Tea Party (by a margin of 57 to 40 percent) favor the shutdown.

How do we get out of this mess? 78 percent of Americans say that the congressional Republicans should compromise rather than sticking to their positions. 76 percent say the same about the Democrats. Not unexpectedly, nearly all Independents favor compromise. Surprisingly, 61 percent of Democrats think President Obama and the Democrats should compromise, and 59 percent of Republicans say the same about congressional Republicans.

As was the case in most prior surveys, more Americans blame Republicans for the impasse than do the president and the Democrats. But if the CBS poll is correct, both parties will take a hit if the shutdown continues.

Prior to the shutdown, Republican strategists reportedly believed that the continuing unpopularity of Obamacare would translate into public support for efforts to use the budget process to delay or defund it. It’s clear that they miscalculated.

Today, President Obama and the congressional Democrats seem to believe that because the public opposes the shutdown, they’ll also accept the Democrats’ continuing refusal to negotiate. This may also turn out to be a miscalculation.

The logic of the situation is clear. Congressional Republicans cannot reasonably expect Obama to compromise on the signature achievement of his presidency. Now that Obamacare is going into effect, it will be up to voters in future elections to evaluate it. Republicans should turn their attention to fiscal policy, which is more negotiable—and more relevant to the budget and debt ceiling deadlines that triggered the current crisis.
  • William A. Galston holds the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in the Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program, where he serves as a senior fellow. A former policy advisor to President Clinton and presidential candidates, Galston is an expert on domestic policy, political campaigns, and elections. His current research focuses on designing a new social contract and the implications of political polarization.

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