McConnell Won’t Rule Out Gov’t Shutdown

Senate Republicans seem to be willing to force a shutdown of the federal government as part of negotiating deep cuts to the federal budget, according to comments made Sunday by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Appearing on NBC’s Meet The Press, McConnell pointedly refused to rule out a government shutdown under direct questioning by moderator David Gregory.

McConnell simply repeated that a deadline to continue funding most government operations after March 4, and an impending need to raise the debt ceiling, represent “two opportunities” to address spending.

MR. GREGORY: But you won’t take shutdown off the table if it comes to that?

SEN. McCONNELL: We have two opportunities to do something important for the country on spending and debt. We ought not to miss this opportunity. The president ought to step up to the plate with us and tackle it together.

Capitol Hill Republicans are eager to push $100 billion or more in spending cuts, cutting the federal budget back to 2006 levels.

A top Senate Democrat took McConnell to task for leaving open the potential for a shutdown, however.

“Too many Republicans seem like they are seeking a shutdown of the government when the current funding measure expires on March 4th,” says Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Center. “This was a mistake when Newt Gingrich did it in 1995, and it would be an even bigger mistake now. It could have disastrous consequences like halting Social Security payments, and jeopardizing access to health care for our veterans and seniors on Medicare. We need to work together to address the deficit, but we would urge Republicans not to risk the shutting down of the government. That is playing with fire.”

The last duel between a Democratic president and congressional Republicans prompted two shutdowns of most of the federal government in 1995 and 1996. In that case, President Bill Clinton won the battle of public opinion, helping raise what had been sagging approval ratings.

It’s less clear who would come out ahead — President Obama or congressional Republicans — in the minds of voters in a 2011 shutdown.

Sarah Binder, senior fellow of governance studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, last month predicted Republicans could be open to a government shutdown. A new shutdown, she says, likely would be more “strategic” in that Republicans would not force a shutdown of the more-popular aspects of government, such as the national parks.

Many Americans were angered during the 1990s shutdowns when they were turned away from national parks that were closed due to the budget stalemate.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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