4 Ways Congress is Using the Shutdown For Political Gain

As the government shutdown continues, 800,000 government employees are on furlough, federal contractors are gaping at potential losses in the millions, and tourism-heavy states that rely on national parks to attract sightseers are feeling the pinch. But politicians in Washington are sustaining the same gamesmanship that has been playing out for over a week now. Why?

1. To Rile Up Obamacare Opponents

Evidently, the government shutdown has been used to try and rescind particular pieces of Obamacare. At a meeting of the Republican Study Committee some months back, Ted Cruz apprised his fellow legislators that, "As scary as a shutdown fight is, if we don't stand and defund Obamacare now, we never will." And as was expected, Speaker John Boehner stipulated that aspects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) be revoked or the shutdown would continue (though his and other leaders' demands on Obamacare are becoming softer).

What Boehner hopes is that Senate Democrats and President Obama will retire Obamacare in order to restart the federal government. By undermining the ACA, Boehner, Cruz, and their conservative allies will be able garner election-time backing from right-wingers and independents who disapprove of Obamacare. 

2. To Increase Chances of a Democratic House

Recent polls have shown that much of the blame for the shutdown has been ascribed to Republicans, with less of those surveyed pointing fingers at the president or Democrats. Taking heed of this, some Democrats have found fodder for campaigns against conservative candidates in swing districts. Case in point: Representative Mike Fitzpatrick (R) of Pennsylvania, who many anticipated would have a difficult time getting reelected, sided with House leaders and claimed that without the delay or defunding of Obamacare, the government shutdown would linger.

In response, his Democratic contender told reporters that "The House of Representatives has caved to the Tea Party. And that includes Congressman Fitzpatrick." Liberal group Americans United for Change is also using the shutdown for political reasons, launching ads that blame 10 Republicans for the shutdown — all of whom were likely to see tough reelections in the near future.

To be sure, some analysts are suggesting that goading voters with news of Republican shutdown tactics will not be enough to win many seats in the House (mainly because of its dearth of swing districts). What's clear is that some Democrats have found some small political benefit from the shutdown.

3. To Avoid Looking Weak

The shutdown and prior endeavors to defund Obamacare have shown us just how many Republicans are staunch antagonists of the ACA. Now, with the clock winding down on ending Obamacare, many Tea Party members are becoming restive. House and Senate members who have given up on using Obamacare as a condition to an agreement are being labeled by the far-right, as McCain said, "Not committed enough." Consequently, some Republicans may be wary capitulating to a spending proposal that does not affect Obamacare — concerned over their political image among others in the party.

4. Money

Much to the dismay of many Americans, this is an area where both parties may see significant profit. An unnamed Democratic National Committee official reported to The Hill that October 1, day one of the shutdown, raked in $850,000 from donors for Democrats. Republican National Committee Spokesperson Kirsten Kukowski did not provide any numbers, but told Bloomberg that the party raised "a lot" of money.

And the shutdown-correlated returns do not stop there. A fundraising email from Republican Senator Mike Lee asserted, "Speeches alone aren't going to win this fight for us." The outspoken Vice President Joe Biden also went soliciting donations. Other politicians, such as Ted Cruz, may be awarded campaign funds from Obamacare objectors like PAC Club for Growth and Citizens United because of their demands that Obamacare be defunded before the government be restarted.

Of course, prospects of donations may not have been the reason parties' found a shutdown appealing. However, it would be foolish to say that most politicians are reluctant to accept contributions and do not find them politically advantageous.