Lawmakers eye US shutdown for leverage

2013-10-10 10:12
Rick Hohensee of Washington holds a "Fire Congress" sign near the House steps on Capitol Hill in Washington. (File, AP)

Rick Hohensee of Washington holds a "Fire Congress" sign near the House steps on Capitol Hill in Washington. (File, AP)

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Washington - Americans pin the blame for the current budget impasse on their lawmakers, but that's not stopping Democrats or Republicans from exploiting the crisis of their making for political advantage ahead of 2014 elections.

As the federal government shutdown enters its 10th day with no solution in sight, they are using the nightmare-turned-reality to press their political case - and pad their coffers.

With a full 13 months before voters troop to the polls, political groups are unveiling TV and radio attack ads in swing states and districts.

Senator Mark Begich, a vulnerable Democrat in Alaska who is up for re-election, used a radio ad to blast "a small band of knuckleheads" for "holding the country hostage over the health care law".

Other ads targeted specific lawmakers, like Republican congressman Tom Latham of Iowa.

"Tom Latham joined with Tea Party Republicans in Congress and shut down our government, putting hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work, slashing Head Start for thousands of kids, putting benefits for seniors at risk, denying cancer treatment for kids, and halting food inspections," said a 30-second TV spot.

The ad is one of 10 created recently by Americans United for Change (AUC) to highlight Republican lawmakers aligning with their party's conservative faction whom many blame for the shutdown.

The group insists the showdown could translate into Democrats seizing the 17 seats necessary to take control of the House of Representatives next year.

"There were enough seats in play even before the government shutdown - due to their inaction on critical issues like immigration reform, gun violence and jobs," AUC president Brad Woodhouse said.

"The seats that were already in play are even more up for grabs."

Polls consistently show that Republicans are being held more responsible for the shutdown than Democrats.

A Pew Research poll showed 38% of Americans blamed Republicans, with 30% blaming Democrats and 19% blaming both.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 70% disapprove of the way Republicans in Congress are handling negotiations over the federal budget. Just 24% approve.

But Republicans are hitting back.

"Democrats want to force Obamacare down our throats," said an ad by the Senate Conservatives Fund, referring to President Barack Obama's health care law, which Republicans have sought to defund or delay.

"They've shut down the government, blocked veterans from national monuments, what's next?"

#Shutdown 'could hurt Republicans'

Republicans have toned down their argument that any budget deal would be contingent on a dismantling of the health care law, saying the budget is now rolled into the debate over raising the debt ceiling by 17 October.

But they say Obamacare will remain a campaign issue, even as they insist they are focused more on the current fiscal crisis than looking toward 2014.

"I'm less concerned about the political ramifications than about curbing spending," Republican congressman Thomas Massie told AFP, adding he wants to see major spending cuts in any budget deal.

He acknowledged the shutdown's lasting political impact "could hurt Republicans" next year, but it remained unclear.

Democrats would need to gain 17 seats to retake the House, and liberal-leaning pollster PPP said that "enough GOP-held seats would be on the table" to make that possible.

Daniel Scarpinato of the National Republican Congressional Committee brushed aside polling that showed his party in trouble.

In swing districts, "what we consistently find is that the health care law is very unpopular, and that voters are very concerned about spending and debt, and that Barack Obama has consistently gotten more unpopular in swing districts," he said.

"Voters feel like their Republican members of Congress are doing a good job representing them and fighting for the issues that matter."

Meanwhile the parties are gearing up for a massive fundraising duel, and the shutdown may have proven the opening shot in the money war.

The Democratic National Committee reportedly raised nearly $850 000 from 30 000 donors in the 24 hours leading into the shutdown.

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said it would be "fair game in the elections" of 2014 to point to the Tea Party stranglehold on the House.

But ultimately, the first government shutdown in 17 years "is not a good thing for anyone who is running for re-election," Cardin said.

"It's caused harm, and people look at who's sitting in the positions of power."

Read more on:    barack obama  |  us  |  us shutdown

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