Government shutdowns: a tale of two media narratives

The next chapter of the Resist! movement is beginning to build up a head of steam and it centers around the possibility that an impasse on spending authorization could lead to a government shutdown. This is something which nobody wants to see… unless they are politicians who might get some mileage out of it or media mavens looking to tell a story. As for the rank and file taxpayers around the country, how will this debacle be portrayed if it happens? We get a peek at things to come from the Washington Post this weekend. Check out this piece from Kelsey Snell and see if you can detect a bit of a… “tone” here.


Democrats in Congress have a new and somewhat surprising tool at their disposal in the era of one-party Republican rule in President Trump’s Washington: power.

It turns out that Republicans need the minority party to help them avoid a government shutdown at the end of April, when the current spending deal to fund the government expires. And Democrats have decided, for now at least, that they will use their leverage to reassert themselves and ensure the continued funding of their top priorities — by negotiating with Republicans.

“I think we have a lot of leverage here,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.).

Did you catch that? “Power


Reassert themselves


Sounds absolutely heroic, doesn’t it? The party in power can be brought to heel if the Democrats can cleverly exercise their power.

Compare that to a different story. This one was unfolding in October of 2013. You will recall that during that period the Democrats held the White House and the majority in the Senate, with enough House seats to cause headaches for John Boehner any time they felt like it. And there was a government shutdown starting. How did the Washington Post describe it then?

Washington began bracing for a prolonged government shutdown on Tuesday, with House Republicans continuing to demand that the nation’s new health-care law be delayed or repealed and President Obama and the Democrats refusing to give in.

There were signs on Capitol Hill that Republicans — knowing that blame almost certainly will fall most heavily on them — are beginning to look for ways to lift some of the pressure…

Republican leaders prefer keep­ing the government closed to compromising on health care. And, with polls showing that voters overwhelmingly blame Republicans for the stalemate, Democrats, too, are willing to let it drag on.


That seems… different somehow, doesn’t it? “Bracing” for a shutdown. Republicans are “demanding” while President Obama and Senate Democrats were heroically “refusing to give in.” The nasty old GOP “prefers keeping the government closed.”

And who gets the blame for this? In 2013, when Republicans were in the minority and out of power in the executive branch, they were the obstructionists.

“Republicans — knowing that blame almost certainly will fall most heavily on them…”

But how does the Washington Post see the potential blame game playing out in 2017 when the GOP controls all three of the major moving pieces and the Democrats are in the role of obstructing progress?

Hill Democrats are betting voters will view any attempt to compromise on spending as further evidence that the fractured GOP is unable to govern. If the talks fail and a shutdown approaches, voters might then blame Republicans for failing to keep the government open despite their control of the House, Senate and White House, several Democratic aides reasoned.

So if the GOP is in the minority and they obstruct the passage of a spending bill, they get the blame. But if they are in control and the Democrats are in the minority and out of the White House… the GOP gets the blame. See how that works? Get ready for more of the same as the end of April gets closer if we don’t have some sort of viable budget deal on the horizon. I just wanted to put this out there as an early stake in the ground because you can smell the narrative coming like a cow patty on a griddle.


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