What The Media's False Equivalence Misses About The Government Shutdown Threat

Media figures have attempted to place blame equally on Republicans and Democrats for a possible government shutdown. Congressional experts, however, overwhelmingly blame the GOP's extreme stance, and polling shows a lack of support for House Republicans' agenda.

Media Figures Introduce False Balance Into Government Shutdown Debate

Fox's O'Reilly: “They're All Playing A Big Political Game Rather Than Looking Out For The Country.” On the September 30 edition of Fox & Friends, Fox host Bill O'Reilly claimed that Republicans and Democrats were both to blame for a possible government shutdown because they “are trying to play to their base.” O'Reilly added that Obama is also playing to his base, and that “they're all playing a big political game, rather than looking out for the country.” [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 9/30/13]

WSJ: “Both Parties Are Responsible For Getting To This Point.” The Wall Street Journal wrote that both sides are to blame for the showdown in Washington because “Americans chose a divided government,” so the “inability to compromise now is rooted in the wide disagreement about the role of government.” The editorial continued:

We've criticized GOP Senator Ted Cruz for his strategy to make defunding ObamaCare a requirement of funding the rest of government. He and his allies know that Mr. Obama can never agree to that, and even millions of Americans who oppose ObamaCare don't agree with his shutdown ultimatum. It risks political damage for the House and Senate GOP in 2014 even as Mr. Cruz builds his email list for 2016.

Yet it takes two to tangle, and Mr. Obama is as much to blame for the partisan pileup as Mr. Cruz. This is a President who is eager to negotiate with dubiously elected Iranian mullahs but can't abide compromise with duly elected leaders of Congress. [The Wall Street Journal9/29/13]

CNN's Cuomo: “Both Sides Seem To Be Saying 'Forget That Constitutional Responsibility To Pass Laws To Fund The Government.'” CNN host Chris Cuomo claimed that both sides were to blame for the budget impasse which could lead to a government shutdown on October 1, claiming, “Both sides seem to be saying, 'forget that constitutional responsibility to pass laws to fund the government. Let's just take a pass on it this time.'”

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. It's Monday, September 30, 7:00 in the east. The only clock worse than the alarm clock is the shutdown clock. Take a look at this, 17 hours, less than that, until the government runs out of money. Both sides seem to be saying, forget that constitutional responsibility to pass laws to fund the government. Let's just take a pass on it this time.

Now, if the government does shut down, dozens of federal offices as well as national parks and monuments could close, like the Washington monument the Smithsonian, the Statue of Liberty. But more importantly, everyday Americans would feel the pain from furloughs to delayed paychecks.[CNN, New Day, 9/30/13, via Nexis]

GOP's Threat To Shut Down Government Comes After More Than 40 Unsuccessful Votes To Defund Obamacare

House Of Representatives Passed Measure That Would Defund The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Also Known As Obamacare, And Shut Down The Government. The Huffington Post reported:

Ignoring the wishes of the White House and the Senate, the House of Representatives passed a stopgap funding bill Friday that will shut down the government unless Democrats agree to defund President Barack Obama's marquee health care law.

While the House voted 230 to 189 to pass the measure that Democrats have called unacceptable, Republicans insisted their bill does nothing to shutter the federal government.

“It simply keeps the lights on in our government,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee,on Friday.

Rogers, whose committee is effectively short-circuited by the three-month stopgap bill, said almost nothing about the Affordable Care Act, but House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) made clear that the main point of the measure is to block the health care law.

“This resolution will also protect the working middle class from the devastating effects of Obamacare,” said Cantor. “Let's defund this law now, and protect the American people from the economic calamity that we know Obamacare will create.”

The vote marked the 42nd time that the House Republican conference has said yes to gutting Obamacare. While some tweaks have been made to the program, the Senate has ignored nearly everything the House has pushed for. [Huffington Post, 9/20/13]

Politico: Repealing The ACA “Has Been The Centerpiece Of The House Republican Majority.” On September 28, Politico reported that defunding or repealing the ACA has been the “centerpiece” of the House Republicans' legislative agenda:

Defunding, delaying and otherwise chipping away at Obamacare has been the centerpiece of the House Republican majority since it took control of the chamber in 2011. Obama has changed some portions of his signature legislative achievement, and he has taken unilateral action to delay the mandate that employers provide health insurance to their workers. [Politico9/28/13]

CNN: “House Republicans Now Have Voted 42 Times To Repeal Or Otherwise Undermine Obamacare.”After the September 20 House vote to repeal Obamacare, CNN reported that this was the 42nd time House GOP has conducted a vote to undermine the ACA. [CNN, 9/20/13

Americans Do Not Support The GOP's Plan To Shut Down The Government Over Obamacare

CNN: Minority Opposes Obamacare “Because It's Too Liberal.” A CNN poll found that, while 54 percent of respondents oppose the health care law, only 35 percent of respondents believe the law is “too liberal” with 16 percent opposing the law “because it isn't liberal enough.” [CNN, 5/27/13]

Kaiser Foundation Poll: Majority Of Americans Disapprove Of Defunding The Affordable Care Act. According to a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 57 percent of Americans “disapprove of the idea of cutting off funding as a way to stop the law from being implemented” with 69 percent of respondents saying, “using the budget process to stop a law is not the way our government should work.” [Kaiser Family Foundation, 8/28/13]

Pew Poll: Less Than 25% Of Americans Want ACA To Fail.  A September 16 poll conducted by USA Today and Pew Research Center found that Americans had a mixed view of the ACA, but even those who disapproved of the law wanted lawmakers to “make it work as well as possible,” instead of repealing it:

Polling Confirms That American People Blame The GOP For Shutdown Threat

CNN: “GOP Would Bear The Brunt Of Shutdown Blame.” A CNN poll found that “more people say congressional Republicans rather than President Barack Obama would be responsible” for a government shutdown, with majorities also saying “they want Congress to approve a budget agreement to avoid a government shutdown, and if it happens, most people say a shutdown would be a bad thing for the country.” [CNN, 9/30/13]

CBS/NY Times Poll: “More People Will Blame Congressional Republicans Than President Barack Obama If The Government Shuts Down This Week.” A CBS/New York Times poll also found that 60 percent of respondents “want lawmakers to pass a budget agreement to avoid the shutdown” and more respondents would blame congressional Republicans for the shutdown than President Obama. [CBS/New York Times, 9/30/13]

Experts Agree That GOP's Extreme Position To Blame For Congressional Impasse

NY TimesThe Extreme Right's “Rigid Ideology Is Proving Toxic For The Most Basic Functioning Of Government.” The New York Times Editorial Board explained that conservative groups like the Club For Growth are pressuring congressional lawmakers in the GOP to vote to defund the ACA or face well-funded primary opponents. From the editorial:

Club for Growth and other extremist groups consider a record like his an unforgivable failure, and they are raising and spending millions to make sure that no Republicans will take similar positions in the next few weeks when the fiscal year ends and the debt limit expires.

If you're wondering why so many House Republicans seem to believe they can force President Obama to accept a “defunding” of the health care reform law by threatening a government shutdown or a default, it's because these groups have promised to inflict political pain on any Republican official who doesn't go along. [The News York Times9/17/13]

Washington Post's Mann And Ornstein: “A Handful Of Republican Lawmakers Are Speaking Openly About Blackmail” To Defund ACA. Brookings Institute's Thomas E. Mann and the American Enterprise Institute's Norman J. Ornstein explained in a Washington Post op-ed that GOP lawmakers' obstruction has led to a Congress that fails to get anything done.

Of course, all of this reflects the fact that the House Republican majority is not being run by its leaders but by its most extreme faction, its role amplified by outside media and money. Among those who are less driven by rigid ideology, the threat of a well-financed primary challenge sharply deflates the number of those eligible for Profile in Courage awards -- or willing to risk their congressional careers to get them. [The Washington Post8/29/13]

Huffington Post: Congressional Experts Blame GOP's “Extreme Position” For Shutdown Threat. In the Huffington Post, Dan Froomkin explained that media coverage of the potential government shutdown has ignored Republicans' demands. Froomkin spoke to congressional experts Louis Fischer, Frances E. Lee, and Charles Tiefer, who explained [emphasis original]:  

Calling it hostage-taking “sounds a little dramatic, but I think it's accurate,” said Louis Fisher, who specialized in the separation of powers over more than three decades at the Congressional Research Service and the Library of Congress.

Frances E. Lee, professor of government and politics at the University of Maryland, said “it's fair” to describe what Republicans are doing as hostage-taking. “But the legislative process involves a lot of hostage-taking,” she said. “You see it on a smaller scale with presidential nominations -- sometimes even employed against the president by members of his own party.”

In this case, however, what's being held hostage is not an appointment or a specific appropriation, but the entire government.

“It's a form of suicide. You can't function that way,” said Fisher. “If government doesn't function, all sorts of radical things happen. You've got to have a government capable of carrying out basic duties.”

“It's like taking the government employees hostage and saying: 'We won't let them come to work unless we're given what we want,” said Charles Tiefer, law professor at the University of Baltimore and former deputy general counsel of the U.S. House of Representatives. “It's taking those couple of million of government employees hostage.” [Huffington Post, 9/25/13]