WASHINGTON — Democrats are accusing Republicans of planning to shut down the federal government, though the charge is based largely on a fight over immigration that’s now very unlikely to happen this month and though no leading Republican is talking seriously about seeking to shutter the government.
The Democrats’ warnings — trumpeted in daily countdowns to a shutdown — are pegged mostly to President Barack Obama unilaterally easing immigration rules — which now may not happen until after the November elections. Even if he issued such an order in the next few weeks, few Republicans are talking provoking about a shutdown. Instead, they condemn the idea.
The Democratic effort should be viewed largely as a way of firing up a party base that needs a jolt for this fall’s election campaigns. “Democrats are using fear of Republicans to motivate their own people,” said Kyle Kondik, the managing editor at the political website Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia.
Congress must pass an annual federal budget by Oct. 1 or some parts of the government would shut down. Lawmakers will return Monday, and they hope to pass a spending plan by Sept. 23.
Both parties are well aware that Republicans took a huge hit during last year’s 16-day partial government shutdown, triggered largely by conservatives’ insistence on revamping the Affordable Care Act. The party’s Gallup poll favorability rating hit a 21-year low during the standoff.
Democrats are pouncing on recent comments by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., as evidence that the party is eager for the government to close.
If Obama does ease immigration rules, Rubio wants a Senate vote on the issue, probably as part of budget legislation. But even if the Senate did vote to overturn such an order, “We are not going to shut down the government. The only people talking about another government shutdown are partisan Democrats trying to raise money and distract from the real issues this fall,” said Rubio spokesman Alex Conant.
If the president doesn’t act before the elections, “I don’t anticipate that there will be any votes on it,” he added.
The Democratic beef with McConnell has less urgency.
“We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” McConnell told Politico last month. “That’s something he won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.”
But McConnell said Wednesday on Fox Business Network, “The only people talking about a government shutdown are the Democrats, and nobody has any interest in doing that.”
Republican leaders in the House of Representatives have also offered no support for such a strategy. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is promoting a new book and says last fall’s strategy was a “suicide mission.” Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called the shutdown talk “a desperate, obvious fundraising scam.”
Democrats cite comments by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, a leader of the House’s ultra-conservative bloc. In August, according to The Des Moines Register, he said “all bets are off” if Obama follows through with an order regarding immigration.
“I think the public would be mobilized and galvanized, and that changes the dynamic of any continuing resolution and how we might deal with that,” he said, referring to legislation approving a short-term budget until the fuller one can be worked out.