As the United States stands on the brink of a potential government shutdown, President Joe Biden’s response this time around stands in stark contrast to his actions during the previous fiscal crisis. In a bid to portray an image of a president focused on key accomplishments while House Republicans wrangle over government funding, Biden has chosen to stay on course with his plans and leave the immediate shutdown negotiations to others. White House officials assert that this approach is intentional, but it may come with consequences as it threatens to disrupt the president’s upcoming travel schedule.
A Presidential Agenda Amid Political Turmoil
Unlike the last fiscal crisis, where President Biden rushed back from an overseas trip to meet with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to avert a debt default, this time he finds himself out West, raising campaign funds and delivering speeches on American democracy, just two days before the impending government shutdown.
Strategic Silence and Political Messaging
The White House’s rationale for this hands-off approach is to project an image of the president actively engaged in the country’s affairs and touting his achievements, even as House Republicans grapple with funding the government. However, the looming shutdown could complicate Biden’s strategy by putting a halt to his travel plans.
A Disrupted Travel Agenda
The White House had charted an ambitious travel schedule for President Biden in October to promote his economic agenda. This itinerary included a long-anticipated trip to Georgia, home to one of his most vocal House Republican critics, Marjorie Taylor Greene. Vice President Kamala Harris and other top administration officials were also set to crisscross the nation next month to amplify the president’s message. With a government shutdown on the horizon, White House officials are now exploring alternative strategies, acknowledging that the shutdown’s impact could limit Biden’s ability to travel. Events scheduled for the coming weeks, such as Harris’s campus tour, are expected to be postponed, according to an administration official.
Contrasting Responses: Shutdown vs. Debt Limit Crisis
This distinct approach to a potential government shutdown compared to the debt limit crisis in May is deliberate. While White House officials were deeply concerned about the political and economic fallout from a debt default, they assert that the current standoff is primarily the result of Republican actions.
Blame Game and Political Posturing
During a campaign event in San Francisco, President Biden sought to place the blame squarely on House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California. Biden stated, “I think that the speaker is making a choice between his speakership and American interests.”
Dissecting the Budget Deal
The White House contends that McCarthy is reneging on the budget deal they had reached to avoid a debt default. McCarthy countered these claims, stating on CNBC that the debt ceiling agreement on the budget was merely intended to initiate further negotiations regarding specific spending bills. He urged President Biden to prioritize the nation’s needs over fundraising and to come together to find a solution.
The Complexity of Negotiations
The deal struck four months ago to avert a debt default required exhaustive negotiations between President Biden’s and McCarthy’s teams, with the White House providing regular updates on the progress. In contrast, this week, the White House chose to spotlight the potential disruptions a government shutdown could cause, including impacts on airline travel and food assistance programs.
Assessing Economic Impacts: Shutdown vs. Default
An economic analysis released by the White House this week painted a relatively less dire picture of a government shutdown compared to the ominous warnings of a debt default. Administration officials asserted that a shutdown could marginally reduce overall economic growth forecasts by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points per week as long as it persists, whereas a brief default would have had a more significant impact, reducing growth by 0.6 points and causing global repercussions.
The Political Calculus
While White House officials emphasize their preference for avoiding a government shutdown, some of Biden’s allies see a potential political advantage for him. Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, who collaborated with Biden’s 2020 campaign, believes that the public would likely place blame on Republicans and Congress as a whole for any shutdown. She noted that President Biden is perceived as more willing than others to work across the aisle, leading people to believe he would not allow a government shutdown to occur.
Navigating Troubled Waters
In the coming days, the nation will closely watch the unfolding drama in Washington as President Biden navigates the delicate balance between asserting his accomplishments and addressing the imminent threat of a government shutdown, all while attempting to steer the country through turbulent political waters.