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The Real Losers In A Government Shutdown

HuffPost- Howard Fineman

First Posted: 02/18/11 04:44 PM Updated: 02/20/11 07:59 AM

WASHINGTON — The plane hasn’t taken off, let alone crashed, but the pilot and co-pilot are already on the intercom blaming each other for catastrophe.

That’s what’s going on as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner maneuver toward a March 4 deadline for extending or changing this year’s federal budget. They are issuing preemptive “I told you so”s, hoping to insulate themselves from blame if no deal is reached and the government shuts down.

The president moved first. He rarely issues veto threats, never mind carrying them out. But he ordered his Office of Management and Budget to issue one on his behalf last Tuesday. In essence, he said that if Congress sent him a deep-cut bill like the one House Republicans are gleefully crafting, he’d veto it. Having warned them in advance, he was saying, he couldn’t be blamed if the GOP went ahead.

On Tuesday, Boehner — eager to stay ahead of his Tea Party Republican Guard — answered back. For his part, he said, he would refuse to consider a plain bill to temporarily extend the existing budget in its current form past March 4. Having warned the president in advance, he was saying, he couldn’t be blamed for the shutdown.

So, if there is one on March 4 — and we seem headed almost inexorably in that direction — who will suffer the most politically?

History is not really a guide. The last big shutdown, in 1995, ended up being a clear winner for then-President Bill Clinton, but primarily because of the hubris and overreach of the then-Republican Speaker (and potential 2012 presidential candidate) Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich managed to make the whole drama look like a matter of personal pique. Go back and look at the famous — and, for Gingrich, devastating — front page of the New York Daily News. It showed Newt as a baby with a bottle; politics is a game of comparison, and he made Bill Clinton look mature.

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