Howard Dean, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, sees an upside to a looming government shutdown – at least politically.
“If I was head of DNC, I would be quietly rooting for it,” said Dean, speaking on a National Journal Insider’s Conference panel Tuesday morning. “I know who’s going to get blamed – we’ve been down this road before.”
The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate was alluding to 1995 and 1996, when two government shutdowns under a Republican Congress helped improve President Clinton’s reelection chances. The scenario could repeat this year as budget negotiations continue to falter, and Dean said he thinks the public will blame Republicans again.
“From a partisan point of view, I think it would be the best thing in the world to have a shutdown,” said Dean. He added that as a statesman, he is not rooting for a shutdown because of its harmful effect on the country.
Predicting who would get the blame for a government shutdown has been a favorite parlor game of Washington pundits since the new wave of House GOP freshmen demanded deep spending cuts to this year’s budget. Dean’s prediction that the fallout would be toxic to Republicans drew a rebuke from former Rep. Vin Weber, who joined Dean on the panel. The Minnesota Republican argued that 2011 is a different time, and that voters are more focused on government spending than they were 16 years ago.
“This isn’t 1995,” Weber said. “Obama is not Clinton; Boehner isn’t Gingrich.”
Steve Elmendorf, who was a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, D-Mo., said a shutdown doesn’t help anybody.
“I don’t think shutdown is in the political interests of either party,” Elmendorf said. “It’s certainly not in the substantive interests of people who want government to work here in Washington.”
Former Rep. Tom Davis, a Republican who represented a swing district in northern Virginia, said both parties have a major selling job ahead to win over the independent voters who decide elections.
"They think both parties are worthless and dysfunctional," Davis said.