Washington at war: Political animosity reaches new, personal level

With no end in sight for the government shutdown, the partisan animosity has gotten unusually bitter and personal, even for Washington. Americans are angry too.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House John Boehner arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Saturday. There has been no sign of progress toward ending the government shutdown that has idled 800,000 federal workers and curbed services around the country.

Everybody knows that “politics ain’t beanbag,” as American humorist Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” put it more than a century ago.

But the partisan animosity over the government shutdown has gotten unusually bitter and personal, even for Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is quoted calling House Speaker John Boehner “a coward.” Mr. Boehner’s reported characterization of Democratic leaders in Congress – questioning the circumstances of their birth, to put it politely – is no less insulting.

In a piece about Reid, Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell headlined “Bad blood: Four feuding leaders,” Politico reports that “the relationship between the nation’s top political leaders is now brimming with acrimony, distrust, and pettiness at a perilous time for the country’s economy.”

“But the personal animus extends beyond the leaders,” this report notes. “Along with their bosses, aides to Boehner and Reid are in an undeclared war and neither is refusing to budge an inch.”

Many long wistfully for the days when President Ronald Reagan and Speaker Tip O’Neill could fight hard over policy by day and entertain each other with stories in the evening. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, a former top aide to Rep. O’Neill, writes about this in his new book “Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked.”

That began to change, political analysts note, when former Rep. Newt Gingrich assumed House leadership in 1995.

"Newt was a 'take no prisoners' kind of Speaker," former GOP congressional staff member John Lawing told Capitol Hill Blue, a non-partisan political web site. "For him everything was personal and partisan."

Today, partisan organizations on both sides are joining the fray.

The Tea Party Express is quoting the late General Douglas MacArthur – "It is fatal to enter a war without the will to win it" – in its latest fund-raising pitch.

A Democratic super PAC television ad to be broadcast during the Cincinnati Bengals-New England Patriots football game Sunday features a close-up of a baby crying, with a narrator saying, "Speaker John Boehner didn't get his way on shutting down health care reform. So, he's shut down the government and hurt the economy."

The ad, sponsored by House Majority PAC will be airing in Boehner's district, which includes rural and suburban areas around Cincinnati, the Huffington Post reports.

The sharp-edged bickering continued Saturday with the regularly-scheduled weekly radio addresses by President Obama and the GOP-designated spokesman for this week.

As he has since the shutdown began Tuesday, Obama puts the responsibility for “this farce” squarely on Republicans, specifically Boehner.

“There’s only one way out of this reckless and damaging shutdown: pass a budget that funds our government, with no partisan strings attached,” Obama said Saturday. “The Senate has already done this. And there are enough Republican and Democratic votes in the House of Representatives willing to do the same, and end this shutdown immediately. But the far right of the Republican Party won’t let Speaker John Boehner give that bill a yes-or-no vote.”
 “Take that vote. Stop this farce. End this shutdown now,” he said.

Speaking for the Republican National Committee, Sen. John Cornyn said, “It has become disturbingly clear that the Obama-Reid shutdown is no longer about health care, or spending, or ideology. It’s about politics, plain and simple.”

The Democrats have calculated that by prolonging the shutdown, and maximizing the pain, they can bully Republicans into doing whatever President Obama and Majority Leader Reid want them to do,” Cornyn said. “It’s a very cynical game, but Democrats have decided to play it.”

Americans are feeling pretty sour about all of this.

A new CBS News poll out Thursday night finds that “nearly nine in 10 Americans are unhappy with the way things are going in Washington, including 43 percent who are angry – up 13 points since March and the highest since CBS News began asking the question in 2010.”

As other polls have shown, Republicans apparently are taking the brunt of that public anger.

Americans disapprove of how both sides are handling the budget negotiations, but more disapprove of congressional Republicans (72 percent) than President Obama and the Democrats in Congress (61 percent), this new poll shows.

“In the current budget debate, Americans think President Obama and the Democrats (48 percent) are more concerned than the Republicans in Congress (37 percent) about doing what is best for their family,” CBS reports. “More generally, most Americans (61 percent) think congressional Republicans oppose the policies proposed by Barack Obama and the Democrats mostly to stop Democrats from gaining political advantage rather than because of a disagreement over policy.”

As the shutdown continued Saturday, the US headed for possible default Oct. 17, and the rhetorical barbs continued to fly, the two sides appeared to agree on one thing: Allowing 800,000-plus furloughed federal workers to be paid retroactively once they’re back to work, a measure likely to be approved by House, Senate, and the White House over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the economic ripple effect of the government shutdown continues.

Lockheed Martin says it will furlough 3,000 employees on Monday due to the government shutdown, The Associated Press reports.

The big defense contractor said Friday that the number of employees put on furlough will increase weekly if the shutdown continues.

Lockheed says the furloughs include employees who are unable to work because the government facility where they perform their work is closed, those whose work requires a government inspection that cannot be completed, or the company has received a stop work order.

Earlier this week, United Technologies Corp. announced that it will furlough 2,000 employees by Monday and more than 5,000 if the shutdown continues into next month.

The company said Wednesday that its Sikorsky division, which makes Black Hawk helicopters, would be hit first. It expects nearly 2,000 employees, including those employed at facilities in Connecticut, Florida and Alabama, will be furloughed on Monday.

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