If the government shutdown were a sporting event with a scorecard and play-by-play, the political battle might go like so:
House Republicans opened the game, if you will, by attempting to defund the Affordable Care Act in conjunction with a continuing resolution to fund the rest of the government. The Senate rejected this bill. After all, if elections have consequences, the ACA is “the law of the land.”
Next, the House passed subsequent bills with declining concessions regarding the ACA. Again, the Senate rejected each of these efforts, making it seem like the House was negotiating with itself. At the last moment, the House proposed that both chambers of Congress go to conference to hash out their differences. This, too, was rejected by the Senate. For what it’s worth, the president maintained that he would not negotiate on this matter, either.
The House GOP’s actions might seem odd at first, since it logically follows that they shut down the government by choosing to fight against the ACA with the continuing resolution. So the Democrats would seem to have been in better standing at the outset. Simply put, the shutdown was the Republican Party’s fault.
Still, viewed in a wider context, one might actually understand the House. The ACA is a wildly unpopular law with many apparent defects and problems, counting a near-supermajority of the public among the opposition. And the House is the legislative body closest to the people, so House Republicans felt duty bound to fight the law. Beyond that, when else would the president possibly negotiate to moderate some of the more objectionable aspects of the ACA? August? July? When nothing else of import was taking place? Hardly.
On October 1, the first day of the shutdown, the ACA’s “exchange” websites went live, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, it could be called an unmitigated disaster, because, to this day, the exchanges still have major problems.
Moving on, with the Democrats clearly in the lead, the federal government executed the shutdown. The first prominent act was to barricade the World War II memorial on one day, and to reinforce the barrier the next. Oddly, these memorials require no labor to leave open, as they are essentially big rocks in the middle of fields—it seemed that the feds were spending more money shutting them down. In response, the House passed a bill to fund national parks and other parts of the government piecemeal. Again, the Senate rejected each bill, demanding, along with the president, that the House GOP fund the entire government without exceptions.
Later, there was a report that the Amber Alert website was down but the First Lady’s website was up and running. This was quickly remedied, but it suggested a lack of impartiality. The GOP continued passing piecemeal resolutions that were likewise rejected.
Into the second week, there were more reports of mischief at national parks. Rangers were blocking off parking lots to privately-owned businesses operating as concessioners at national parks, notably in GOP-friendly states. Meanwhile, San Francisco area businesses in similar settings were left open. The feds explained this away by distinguishing between leases and mere concessioners. Regardless of the distinction, the optic appeared unfair. It became more bizarre when the feds blocked off exit ramps—that is, driveways—where tourists could view Mt. Rushmore.
Then, proponents of immigration reform held a rally on the national mall, many of whom were presumed to be in the country illegally, rallying in favor of a policy the president supports. At the same time, private citizens were still barred from visiting the many memorials in Washington, D.C. This, too, looked impartial, unfair, and deliberate, especially when the House Minority Leader specifically thanked the president for allowing the rally to happen.
Next, news broke that the shutdown would prevent the feds from paying death benefits to the families of fallen American troops, causing near-universal outrage. Later, reporters learned that staffers in the White House knew about the situation for several days prior. Only after a resounding outcry and a promise from the Fisher House to fulfill the need did the feds act.
Thursday brought a poll showing bad news for the Republicans—that the public blamed them for the shutdown by a large margin. This poll dominated the news cycle but was inconsistent with other polls that showed the public blaming both parties in most cases, but the Republicans more so by small margins.
That afternoon, Congressional figures finally met with the president to open discussions. Nothing tangible has arisen yet and progress looks to be slow, but at least there is some movement.
As a scorecard—and it would depend upon how one might weigh each event—one might read here a slight edge for the GOP. Yes, they pushed an issue in conjunction with a continuing resolution and were rebuffed, but since the original proposal, Republicans have consistently made counteroffers to the Democrats and funded portions of the government one at a time. Meanwhile, Senate Democrats and the president repeatedly refused to negotiate while the administration appeared to inflict deliberate pain on the public. So even if the GOP “started it,” the Democrats have looked petty and vindictive ever since.