Americans may be holding congressional Republicans responsible for the partial shutdown of the federal government now, but it's too soon to tell if that ire will affect next year's midterm elections.
The fluidity of the behind-the-scenes sausage-making after the government shut down resembled a spreading oil slick: Democrats accusing Republicans of holding the country and its economy hostage. Republicans accusing Democrats of wanting the shutdown in the first place and Democrats saying the same thing about Republicans. President Obama calling the situation a "reckless Republican shutdown." Republicans dissing each other over standing firm in the face of the first government shutdown since the mid-1990s but not having an exit strategy. Republicans accusing Democrats of not wanting to fund individual budget bills to reopen national parks and monuments or fund the National Institutes of Health. Democrats accusing Republicans of cherry-picking high-profile and popular issues rather than fund the federal government in its entirety.
Throughout Monday and early Tuesday, the GOP-controlled House passed -- and the Democratic controlled Senate rejected -- measures to avert a shutdown, but bearing strings that would defund or amend the Affordable Care Act, colloquially known as Obamacare. The Senate leadership said it wanted a clean stopgap funding bill sans language to either end or delay parts of the federal healthcare law -- something the upper chamber already passed and House Speaker John Boehner knows he'll need Democratic support to get it through his chamber, which, in turn, would infuriate his caucus' most conservative members.
And to throw some urgency into the mix, Oct. 17, the Treasury Department said, is the last date it's certain to have enough money to pay all its bills if the debt ceiling isn't raised. Failure to do so, Obama, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and economists say, will land the United States in default on its debt.
Numerous polls indicated Americans place the mess at the GOP's feet.
"It's too soon to tell about the costs for the 2014 elections, but the GOP has lost a unique and momentous opportunity to seize upon Obamacare's rocky first day and reinforce public doubt," said Larry Jacobs of the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
In fact, the GOP may have actually helped Obamacare, he said.
"The big story before Tuesday [when the government shuttered] was the weak rollout of Obamacare -- not enough resources were devoted to explaining the exchanges and the result was enormous confusion and significant disconnection," Jacobs said. "The shutdown delivered more for raising public awareness and engagement in collecting information and signing up than what the Obama administration and the states accomplished."
The budget debate and shutdown has been a "net minus for the GOP brand," Republican lobbyist Ed Rogers told The Washington Post. "For some reason the party can't get budget politics right. There is no consensus among Republicans about what to do or even what we are for so we just look like the Party of 'No.'"
Boehner has had to lead a fractious caucus since Tea Party movement candidates were swept into office in the 2010 midterm, when the Republicans gained control of the House, and again in 2012. The hard-right conservatives, meanwhile, have no problem breaking ranks with their chamber's leader.
"John Boehner is in a no-win situation -- fending off a well-organized right while trying to protect his party's national reputation," Jacobs said.
The same would be true should Republicans retain control of the House next year and he is successfully ousted as speaker "because a majority of Republicans in the House support or are fearful" of the small, but vocal, group.
Taking a longer view to 2014 or 2016, Jacobs said, "The pressure to guard the party's national reputation to win elections is felt by a small number of House Republicans in competitive races. The rub is this minority will determine which party has the majority."
"At the moment, the policy purists and their acolytes rule the roost and the electoral threat is seen as distant -- and therefore secondary," Jacobs said.
Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, dismissed questions about the political impact of a possible shutdown, Politico said.
"I think the people really want us to get a handle on the spending, I think they are very concerned about the role of Obamacare," Walden said. "It's important that we continue the fight."
Offering a 180-degree interpretation was New York Rep. Steve Israel, who leads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"It's possible the Republicans are giving us a path to the majority," Israel told Politico, possibly expanding the number of seats Democrats could win in 2014,
The DCCC has identified 52 Republican-held seats that are in play.
Israel downplayed the notion that voters in 2014 would blame Obama for the shutdown.
"President Obama is not on the ballot in 2014, they are," Israel said of his Republican House colleagues. "So this is going to be a referendum on their extremism, their chaos, their gridlock and Democrats with reasonable ideas and commonsense solutions to America's problems."
Republican pollster David Winston told Politico the dust hasn't settled on how much a shutdown would affect the 2014 election.
"Here's the bottom line: When it's 52-card pickup, everyone is going to get hurt to some degree because people are seen as not governing," Winston said. "It's hard to know what the impact could be, but it creates a significant amount of uncertainty."
While both parties have set-tos with various factions, the shutdown pushed into the spotlight "an extraordinary fissure, which will define the national electoral viability of the GOP to win the White House and build a sustainable majority coalition," Jacobs said.
Still, he said, neither party is winning over the American public.
"If there is a winner," Jacobs said, "it may be Obamacare, which may find greater and sooner enrollment and, eventually, stronger support as the public zeroes in for the first time on what it is."