- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2013

By pushing Congress to the brink of a shutdown over Obamacare, House Republicans ultimately stand to lose on the very issue that helped bring them to power, pollsters and analysts say.

Although polls show President Obama is getting a hefty share of the blame for the budget impasse, surveys also show that the Republicans are faring worse than the president. Most voters dislike Obamacare, but they dislike a government shutdown over the health care program even more.

For example, a Rasmussen Reports survey Monday found that 45 percent of the public favor a shutdown until Democrats and Republicans can agree on spending cuts. That was down from 53 percent only two weeks ago.

A CNN/ORC poll released Monday found that 46 percent of Americans would blame Republicans for a shutdown and 36 percent would blame Mr. Obama.

“The president has the microphone, and he generally has a sympathetic press that’s going to echo what he says,” said Jon McHenry, vice president of North Star Strategies, a Republican polling firm. “There’s a lot of peril for Republicans in this.”

The showdown has highlighted the intraparty rift between tea-party Republicans such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who waged a one-man fight against Obamacare last week, and establishment Republicans, such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who think a shutdown would do the party more harm than good.

The drive in the House to gut Obamacare has been fueled by tea-party conservatives who represent districts where Republican Mitt Romney generally carried more than 60 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election. Many of these lawmakers were swept into power in 2010 as a result of the public outcry over the Democratic-led House approving Obamacare in 2009 without a single Republican vote.

And while there is little individual risk for those conservative lawmakers in pushing a shutdown, Mr. McHenry said there is collective risk for the House GOP’s majority if a public backlash hurts moderate Republicans in swing districts.

“At some point you have to decide if you want to be a Republican in the minority,” Mr. McHenry said. “Safe as your seat might be, that doesn’t mean you that guaranteed a majority going forward. A lot of those folks haven’t been in the minority. You can’t stop Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi with 200 Republicans in the House and 40 Republicans in the Senate.”

Mr. Obama has drawn criticism for failing to reach out to Speaker John A. Boehner during the impasse — his phone call to the speaker late Monday was the first in more than a week. But the president still benefits from the public perception that House Republicans are being unreasonable in their budget demands, said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who is close to White House advisers.

“He has no one to negotiate with,” said Mr. Manley, of the bipartisan lobbying firm Quinn Gillespie. “Republicans can make all the noise they want, but the fact is there’s no one to negotiate with on the Hill right now. The inmates have taken over the insane asylum, especially in the House.”

Mr. Manley said he was “a little surprised” that recent polling showed the public blames congressional Republicans only slightly more than it blames the president for the budget crisis. But he and White House aides believe Mr. Obama will emerge from the confrontation in a better position than the GOP.

White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday that political considerations are not on the president’s mind.

“I think it’s important to know that we don’t care about the politics of this,” Mr. Carney said. “The president cares about making sure that the American people aren’t hurt by it.”

The president took to the microphones once again Monday afternoon to engage in his favorite topic of late, blaming tea-party conservatives for the crisis.

“Right now, House Republicans continue to tie funding of the government to ideological demands like limiting a woman’s access to contraception, or delaying the Affordable Care Act, all to save face after making some impossible promises to the extreme right wing of their party,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. McHenry said that although Mr. Obama’s job-approval ratings are poor, and he isn’t leading on the budget crisis, tea party conservatives are inadvertently strengthening his position.

“He hasn’t done anything to distinguish himself by trying to lead on this issue,” Mr. McHenry said. “The president seems to have exhausted his ideas for leading the country. But by pushing this shutdown possibility as far as it’s gone, the Republicans have pushed the president to the one talking point he has left — railing against Republicans.”