Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Bet on Obama to win shutdown fight

By Paul Begala, CNN Contributor
September 30, 2013 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
The game is the same, but many of the players have changed. Congress and the president are facing off in another supreme spending showdown. This last happened in 2011, when Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a spending measure shortly after the midnight deadline hit. Who controls what happens this time? Take a look at the key players who will determine how this fight ends.<!-- -->
</br><!-- -->
</br>
-- From CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Lisa Desjardins. CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett contributed to this report. The game is the same, but many of the players have changed. Congress and the president are facing off in another supreme spending showdown. This last happened in 2011, when Congress avoided a shutdown by passing a spending measure shortly after the midnight deadline hit. Who controls what happens this time? Take a look at the key players who will determine how this fight ends.

-- From CNN Capitol Hill Reporter Lisa Desjardins. CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.
HIDE CAPTION
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
Key players in the shutdown debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala asks which party is more united, mainstream and reasonable
  • Begala says that's the way to see who's winning shutdown, and Democrats win
  • He says majority of American voters don't want to shut down the goverment over Obamacare
  • Begala: Obama should insist avoiding default is first priority before negotiating

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House.

(CNN) -- As Washington hurtles toward a government shutdown, the go-to move for the uninformed is to blame both sides equally. Just say, "A pox on both their houses," and you can get through any neighborhood barbecue or TV talk show.

But what if you really want to know what's happening? There are three metrics you should track if you want to know who will come out ahead in a government shutdown:

Which side is more united?

One of President Clinton's laws of politics is: "Democrats want to fall in love, Republicans just want to fall in line." Which is what makes the GOP fratricide so interesting.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

Savaging your colleagues, undermining your leaders, backbiting and backstabbing -- these are usually Democratic specialties. But not now. Credit the strong leadership of House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with keeping a remarkably diverse Democratic Congress together. When you can keep a strong conservative like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia on the same page with the powerfully progressive Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, you are definitely winning.

Meanwhile, the GOP, whose members range from conservative to ultraconservative, is at war with itself and its leaders. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas led the fight on the Senate floor to block consideration of the funding bill. But after a pointless 21-hour talkathon, the majority of his GOP colleagues rejected Cruz's strategy. Senate Republicans split badly and bitterly; 25 voted against Cruz while just 19 voted with him.

In the House, it is chaos. The Neanderthals are fighting the Cro-Magnons and the Homo erectus tough guys are fighting the australopithecines.

Which side is more mainstream?

A majority of voters don't like the Affordable Care Act -- although that's a bit misleading, because a percentage of them dislike it because they think it doesn't go far enough.

Road blocks in debt ceiling compromise
No game plan to avoid a shutdown
What happens to workers in shutdown?

I like it -- in fact, I love it -- but that's not the point of this column. Obamacare clocks in at just 29% support in a recent CNBC poll. So you'd think that the Republicans' position of repealing the ACA would be more mainstream. But you'd be wrong.

That same CNBC poll shows that Americans oppose defunding Obamacare, with only a little more than one-third of voters saying they want it defunded. They want to mend it, not end it.

What's worse for the Republicans, when the question shifts to whether you support shutting down the government and/or defaulting on U.S. debt in order to kill Obamacare, the GOP position loses by a crushing 59 to 19 percentage points. When you're down to just 19% of your countrymen and -women supporting your crusade, it's time (as we say in Texas) to pee on the fire and call the dogs: The hunt's over.

That is, no doubt, why the House Republicans have retreated to their new position: delaying Obamacare for a year rather than outright defunding it. But health care delayed is health care denied, and it's a bit of a reach to demand a one-year delay in the president's top domestic priority in exchange for funding the government for 10 weeks.

Which side is more reasonable?

It is hard to seem reasonable when you are pursuing a strategy that even conservative Republicans like Sen. Richard Burr called "the dumbest idea I've ever heard of." Keep in mind this is from a man who represents North Carolina, where the Republicans proposed a law barring federal courts from interpreting the Constitution, and allowing the North Carolina Legislature to declare a state religion. (Which might have passed had they chosen the right religion for the Tarheel State: college basketball.)

And yet there is hope for the GOP here. Every time the president says "I will not negotiate on the debt ceiling" -- a phrase he utters even more often than "Just pass me the ball, Joe, I'm open!" -- he risks looking unreasonable.

As a matter of substance, I strongly agree with his position. But as a matter of rhetoric and positioning, he would be better served to state his position this way: "I will gladly listen to any idea to improve the Affordable Care Act, or reduce the deficit, or any other ideas my Republican friends might have. But first we have to avoid default. That means paying the bills that Congress has already incurred. Once we've done that we can negotiate on anything."

Same substantive position: Negotiations on policy come only after the nation avoids default. But this formulation emphasizes the president's willingness to be flexible on improving the ACA and other Obama priorities.

Of course, nothing is certain in life. But if I were a betting man, I'd bet on President Obama and the Democrats in this fight. As long as Republicans appear more divided, more extreme and more unreasonable, they are going to lose. And then they will look weak as well.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Paul Begala.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 1750 GMT (0150 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT