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As workers wait, shutdown bolsters political profits

Despite a split poll about who is responsible, Saturday's "Melissa Harris-Perry" panel of guests was quite clear about who is to blame for the government shutdown.
/ Source: Melissa Harris Perry

Despite a split poll about who is responsible, Saturday's "Melissa Harris-Perry" panel of guests was quite clear about who is to blame for the government shutdown.

Six days into the shutdown with no clear end in sight, federal workers are trying to figure out how to make ends meet while not receiving a paycheck. Lawmakers are trying to figure out how to score a political win. And the American public are feeling the effects of losing essential government services, but aren’t quite sure who’s at fault. A CBS poll this week found that 44% of Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown, a greater percentage than blame Democrats–but still less than half the country.

On Saturday’s Melissa Harris-Perry, the panel of guests was quite clear about who should shoulder the blame for the shutdown fiasco.

“What’s the rule when you have a hostage situation?” asked NBC Latino contributor Raul Reyes on Saturday. “[The rule is] drop the gun and then we will talk.”

Reyes criticized House Republicans for calling for negotiations on the budget while still holding as collateral their ability to keep the government closed. NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Luke Russert told host Melissa Harris-Perry that the government is unlikely to be re-opened for at least another week.

With little impetus on either side to back down, Russert sees what is happening now as a battle over messaging rather than specific terms of negotiations. Republicans have been introducing piecemeal bills selectively funding parts of government, a tactic Russert says is intended to put Democrats on their heels, and give Republicans talking points for campaign ads in competitive districts.

President Obama has made it clear he will reject all piecemeal spending bills. The Office of Management and Budget said in a statement that “consideration of appropriations bills in this fashion is not a serious or responsible way to run the United States government. Instead of opening up a few Government functions, the House of Representatives should re-open all of the government.”

But there is one bill that the White House has signaled President Obama would sign. The House today voted unanimously to approve retroactive pay for furloughed federal workers. The bill now heads to the Senate, but NBC News reports it is unlikely they will act on it Saturday.

House Democrats, led by Maryland delegate Chris Van Hollen and California delegate George Miller, are considering using the procedural “discharge petition” to force a vote on a clean Continuing Resolution, with reports of around 20 Republicans in the House who would vote for it. However, that procedure includes a 30-day waiting period, which wouldn’t allow the government to re-open until November. Barring the success of that plan, there seem to be few other options to end the shutdown, as internal conflict among Republicans has prevented them from considering the clean CR approved by the Senate more than a month ago.

While they wait for Washington to figure it out, some programs slated to be shut down have found ways to temporarily extend their services. The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC, is using contingency funds from the Department of Agriculture combined with other funds to extend their work through the end of the month. Over half of all infants born in the United States benefit from food provided by WIC.

Conversely, Democrats and Republicans can agree on one aspect of the shutdown–it has been a successful agent for party fundraising. The DNC raised close to $850,000 in the day leading up to the shutdown, and the RNC brought in $1 million in the shutdown’s first three days. “When it comes to fundraising, losing is winning,” said syndicated columnist Bob Franken.

Sara Kugler is the program coordinator at the Anna Julia Cooper Project on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South at Tulane University in New Orleans–headed by our host, Melissa Harris-Perry. Find them on Facebook, and on follow them on Twitter at @AJCProject.