The threat of a shutdown, cont’d

THE THREAT OF A SHUTDOWN, CONT’D…. At the White House press conference this morning, ABC’s Jake Tapper brought the “s” word into the discussion — “shutdown.”

“House Republicans, as you know, want to start cutting now, want to start cutting this year’s budget,” Tapper noted. “Are you willing to work with them in the next few weeks so as to avoid a government shutdown?” President Obama explained a bit about what a continuing resolution is, before stressing the importance of making cuts that don’t undermine the economy.

“[W]e’ve got to be careful. Again, let’s use a scalpel; let’s not use a machete. And if we do that, there should be no reason at all for a government shutdown. And I think people should be careful about being too loose in terms of talking about a government shutdown, because this is not an abstraction. People don’t get their Social Security checks. They don’t get their veterans payments. Basic functions shut down. And that, also, would have an adverse effect on our economic recovery. It would be destabilizing at a time when, I think, everybody is hopeful that we can start growing this economy quicker.

“So I’m looking forward to having a conversation. But the key here is for people to be practical and not to score political points.”

The problem, of course, is that some lawmakers appear a little too eager to score political points, and deliberately avoid being practical.

Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, led a budget seminar for nearly 40 House freshmen before the start of the new Congress.

She believes freshman conservatives are itching to make a dramatic statement by shutting down the government.

“It was clear there was a group of new members who in my mind were more concerned with making statements than working with their own leadership to solve the nation’s problems,” said Bilmes. “Nothing I’ve seen in the last week changes my mind.

“There are certainly some elements within the Tea Party group that are looking to make a dramatic statement.”

Just so we’re clear, this is a sentiment that suggests Republicans would shut down the government, not just as a result of an irreconcilable dispute with the White House, but because GOP lawmakers want to shut down the government.

On a related note, House Republicans had to know this was coming, but the White House went ahead and made the threat formal today — President Obama would have no choice but to veto the GOP’s proposed cuts for the remainder of the fiscal year, if they reached the Oval Office.

“If the president is presented with a bill that undermines critical priorities or national security through funding levels or restrictions, contains earmarks, or curtails the drivers of long-term economic growth and job creation while continuing to burden future generations with deficits, the president will veto the bill,” the White House said in a statement. It added that while the administration supports reducing spending to cut the deficit, “the administration does not support deep cuts that will undermine our ability to out-educate, out-build, and out-innovate the rest of the world.”

Just as a reminder, something has to do be done by March 4 — 17 days from today — or the shutdown will begin.