Vermont’s Democratic and Republican parties have joined the bickering over who’s at fault for the federal government shutdown, but the GOP’s only statewide officeholder says both sides deserve blame.
Budget negotiations hit an impasse in Congress last week, provoking a partial government shutdown that was ongoing as of Tuesday.
Leading up to that point, House Republicans tacked provisions onto the funding bill that would have rolled back Obamacare. The Senate and President Barack Obama rebuffed that strategy, arguing that Republicans were short-circuiting the constitutional procedure for repealing a law, and that the funding bill should be voted on as a standalone measure.
“It’s really frustrating to watch when it appears that all three — the [Democratically controlled] Senate, the [Republican-led] House and the president — are all taking a hard-line approach,” Lt. Gov. Phil Scott said Tuesday. “That’s usually not a good formula for success. I think everyone has to be willing to come to some agreement.”
Scott also said he doesn’t think House Republicans should have brought the president’s Affordable Care Act into budget negotiations in the first place.
“I know there are problems with the law, and I’m not saying I would have supported it along the way, but I’ve always felt, even with the laws we’ve passed here, once they become law you have an obligation to help move forward and I think this leaves many people in limbo,” Scott said.
Deborah Bucknam, the acting chair of the Vermont Republican Party (Jack Lindley, the elected chair, has been hospitalized due to an undisclosed health issue), said Tuesday that “blaming each other is unproductive,” but Democrats have been behaving more poorly, in her judgment.
Democrats have proven less willing to compromise, according to Bucknam — she points to their repeated rejections of piecemeal bills, proposed by House Republicans, to keep certain parts of government functioning — and they’ve gone overboard with name-calling.
Bucknam sent out a statement to that effect Tuesday, calling on the Vermont Democratic Party to “urge their national leaders to practice Vermont civility, and respectfully engage with national Republicans in a dialogue, not in demonization.”
She cites several diatribes, issued from Democratic ranks, which she described as “a little over the top, to put it mildly: blackmailers, terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests, arsonists, anarchists.”
That advice didn’t sit well with Dottie Deans, the Vermont Democratic Party chair, who criticized Bucknam for quibbling over rhetoric amidst an economic calamity.
“Bucknam’s plea for civility in public discourse falls flat in the face of reality,” Deans said in the statement. “Vermonters are not suffering from a crisis of partisan rhetoric.”
Deans maintains that there’s been plenty of vitriol coming from Republicans, too, but she said that’s beside the point.
“We could provide a plethora of inflammatory comments from prominent GOP lawmakers, but what purpose would that serve? We’re talking about real consequences for everyday Vermonters. This is not a game,” she said.
Democrats haven’t shied away from parceling out blame — they say Tea Party Republicans are fully at fault for the shutdown.
Recent polls show more Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown. A Washington Post-ABC News poll, released Monday, shows 70 percent disapprove of congressional Republicans, while 61 percent disapprove of congressional Democrats. Unsurprisingly, Democrats are more inclined to blame Republicans and vice versa, but, according to the Washington Post, the poll also reveals a divergence in opinion among Republicans.
“By 59 to 39 percent, conservative Republicans approve of the way their party’s members of Congress have handled budget negotiations in combined interviews over two weeks,” the Post reported. “But Republicans who identify as moderate or liberal split narrowly: 44 percent approval to 49 percent disapproval.”
Ryan Emerson, communications director for the Vermont Democrats, said the state Republican Party is making a mistake by vocally backing congressional Republicans.
“I think it will filter down to Vermont, and quite frankly, I think we’ve seen a fissure in the Republican Party that’s been well-documented in the media over the last year,” he said.
Vermont Press Bureau reporter Peter Hirschfeld first reported a disagreement between Lindley and Scott about whether the party should distance itself from the national GOP brand (Scott’s view) or stay loyal to it (Lindley’s position).
Emerson said he thinks the state Republican Party has hewed toward the latter, and, in light of that, the shutdown could be a liability for them.
Bucknam disagreed. “We don’t have any federal Republican officeholders and we are focused on state issues, so I don’t think it will have much effect.” Bucknam said she thinks the polling numbers favor Democrats, in part because there’s been a liberal bias in media coverage of the standoff.
Scott said he isn’t thinking about how the Vermont Republican Party might fare in the aftermath of the shutdown. “My concern is about getting the government back in business and getting people back to work. I’m not concerned about the ramifications. To be honest I think that’s what’s led us into the issues we face. Too many people are thinking about how it affects their elections.”
Tuesday’s feud marks the second verbal skirmish, played out through media, between Vermont Republicans and Democrats on the subject of the government shutdown. During a VPR interview, Bucknam blamed Democrats for bringing the government to the brink of a shutdown.
“I think it’s the Democrats who are by saying we will not compromise are the ones that are pushing this toward a government shutdown,” Bucknam told VPR’s Bob Kinzel. “They’re the ones who are saying it’s all or nothing. So it certainly is their responsibility.”
Deans described that as an “outrageous claim” and pointed the finger back at the GOP.