In early April, Obama found himself in a difficult situation: stuck trying to appease the American public and balance the budget while working with an unfriendly Republican-lead House. All of Washington was abuzz, speculating about whether or not the government would actually shutdown. Eventually, however, Obama struck a bargain with Republicans in order to avoid closing the government’s doors—a deal that many democrats did not approve of. Obama, however, was not the first democratic President to find himself in this sticky situation.
Over 15 years earlier, in November of 1995, President Clinton was in a similar showdown with Newt Gingrich and a republican congress. Clinton, however, took a much different tact than Obama. Instead of working to avoid a shutdown, he confronted it head on and the unthinkable happened: the US government stopped working for 5 whole days. What many commentators thought was political suicide actually paid off for Clinton: after the shutdown his approval ratings hit an all-time high, and many pinpoint this time as a turn-around moment for Clinton’s presidency. By holding his ground, he garnered higher approval ratings and won re-election.
What I want to examine in this paper is the two different negotiating tracks the two Presidents took in very similar situations. More so, the consequences of the different choices the Presidents made are very interesting. I want to examine which President got more of what they wanted policy-wise: did it pay off to work with the other side of the aisle or is a more confrontational approach more successful? Could Obama have gained more popularity with a shutdown? If he had been more confrontational, could he have avoided the battle on the debt ceiling down the road? These are the broad questions that I would like to try to answer in my paper.
Obviously, I am in the very beginning stages of my research. A lot of the paper will be looking at the historical context of the situation in 1994 and comparing it to 2011, but I hope to supplement that with interviews of some sort. I’m looking forward to delving into the topic more as the year progresses, and seeing if this issue is something that reappears for Obama as the 2012 election nears.