For Obama, it's the 'Republican shutdown'


* Working to lay the blame on his opponents

* Will the strategy work?

* No rush for negotiations

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON, Oct 1 (Reuters) - For President Barack Obama,the U.S. government shutdown that rippled across the country onTuesday is the "Republican shutdown" and he is working hard tosee that the name sticks to his political opponents.

"We may not know the full impact of this Republican shutdownfor some time," he said in the White House Rose Garden, with 12Americans gathered behind him brought in to illustrate thebenefits of his signature healthcare law, popularly known as"Obamacare."

Also unknown: The full impact of the shutdown on Obamahimself.

There is a recognition inside and outside of the White Housethat the president could eventually catch some of the publicanger from a prolonged shutdown, especially if the U.S. economytakes a hit from the idling of hundreds of thousands ofgovernment workers.

For now, Obama is following the model used by DemocraticPresident Bill Clinton during the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns thathe encountered: Lay the blame at the feet of Republicans.

Polls have consistently shown that Americans oppose theRepublicans' strategy linking continued funding of thegovernment with defunding or delaying Obamacare.

One potential flaw in the Obama strategy, said formerClinton White House press secretary Mike McCurry, is thatClinton was more popular at that point than Obama is now and theU.S. economy was in better shape in the mid-1990s than now.

"We weren't confident that Clinton was going to avoid theblame," said McCurry. "I remember day in and day out being veryconcerned that this was going to produce a reaction in which allsides got equal blame. We had no real confidence that we weregoing to come out on the winning end of things."

As for the Obama White House, McCurry said: "They have to becautious. They can't assume they come out at the same place asClinton did. But if they manage their communications effectivelyand remind people what the purpose of the fight is all about,they come out ahead."

White House officials see a number of advantages that Obamaholds over Republicans in the House of Representatives. EveryDemocratic senator is united behind the idea of not shuttingdown the healthcare law, and both Democrats and Republicans seethe need to avoid damaging the U.S. economy.


Obama is coming under heavy criticism from Republicans forrefusing to negotiate with them over the healthcare law. ButObama is under equal pressure from Democratic loyalists toprotect the central achievement of his first term, extendinghealth insurance to millions of Americans who have been without.

Pressed on why Obama does not sit down with his opponents,White House officials say that could just result in moredemands.

"Well, if they get what they want in order to reopen thegovernment or not default for a few months or a few weeks, nextthey'll say, 'OK, undo the increase in tax rates for thewealthiest of Americans, for millionaires and billionaires,"White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "That could be next."

Obama advisers stress that Obama is willing to entertainsome tweaks to the healthcare law, but only outside of the budget stalemate, not with "a gun pointed to your head," saidWhite House communications adviser Jennifer Palmieri.

As a consequence, the White House seems content to let theshutdown play out for a while and wait for Republicans to feel heat from the public.

"I think if you're the White House, you just sit back andwatch," Robert Gibbs, a former Obama White House presssecretary, said on MSNBC.

Part of the opposition to Obama stems from the way theoriginal healthcare law was drawn up and approved by a Congresscontrolled by Democrats at the time.

Republicans in the House of Representatives view thehealthcare law as a dangerous extension of government power.

Opponents have been further aroused by glitches and delaysin the new program's rollout, which they see as a sign that itis hopelessly flawed.

"I think that's part of it," said Republican strategist EdRollins. "It's turning out to be far more difficult to implementthan anybody anticipated. Why not put it off for a year and fixit?"

The current fight is sure to have an impact on whetherDemocrats or Republicans are able to pick up seats in November2014 congressional elections.

Normally the party that does not hold the White House, inthis case the Republicans, has an advantage in midtermelections.

"The political benefits I don't think are as great for thepresident as some might expect," said Andy Smith, director ofthe University of New Hampshire Survey Center. "And thepotential political losses for Republicans aren't necessarily asgreat."

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