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EDITORIAL: The blame game

Red-state Democrats are likely to flunk the smell test

- - Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Washington loves the blame game, and President Obama most of all. He woke up Tuesday morning with his finger primed to point at "one faction of one party in one house of Congress" for the partial government shutdown. He was, of course, talking about the conservative House Republicans he can't criticize often or harshly enough, but his words apply more accurately to the red-state Democrats in the Senate.

The House passed several continuing resolutions that would have kept the federal government's nonessential functions open, but Democratic senators from right-leaning states stood by their liberal colleagues, and if their constituents don't like it, tough. Republicans sought only a compromise, which is what politics is supposed to be about: the modest mitigation of the train wreck of Obamacare through a one-year deferral of the individual mandate, elimination of the medical-device tax and repeal of Obamacare subsidies for the members of Congress who forced most Americans to buy seats on the doomed train. The Republicans may be on the right track; a Rasmussen poll on Monday found only 36 percent of voters backing the individual mandate. Republicans even offered clean bills to keep national parks, museums and hospitals for veterans open.

Had just five Democrats broken ranks, the Senate could have sent President Obama a funding measure keeping the government open through mid-December, along with the temporary delay of the wreck. The responsibility would then have been squarely on the president to explain why he would shut down the government to prevent a tax that will cost $695 per person within the next three years.

Party loyalty is often at odds with the sentiment of a senator's state. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Jon Tester of Montana, Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia will eventually have to explain themselves to their voters. Some of them won't pass the smell test.

First up are Sens. Begich, Hagan, Landrieu and Pryor, who face tough re-election fights next year. They're gambling that voters' memories will be short and that anger toward Obamacare will cool by Election Day. They're hoping that everybody will like Obamacare once they get accustomed to the pain. Anyone who loses his job or finds his hours cut is likely to like Obamacare less, not more. Nor is he likely to overlook the loss of insurance coverage or the soaring premiums, deductibles and co-pays.

Republicans lack such party discipline. Sen. John McCain of Arizona questions tying Obamacare triage to the continuing resolution. House Speaker John A. Boehner has been trying to balance the interests of moderates who want to surrender immediately against those of the Tea Party faction elected in 2010 to repeal Obamacare.

Assigning blame may not actually be of much interest outside the Beltway. Millions of Americans awoke Tuesday to find the world much the same as it was when they turned in for the night. Voters aren't likely to hold a grudge against Republicans if only a few services are suspended for only a few days. But the "ifs" abound.