Shutdown Puts Republican Governors in Tricky Spot

Many GOP governors oppose Obamacare, but they don't want their own states to suffer from a shutdown.
by | October 3, 2013
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, chair of the National Governors Association, wrote a letter urging Washington to avoid a shutdown because of "the possible consequences to state economies."

When the federal government shut down Oct. 1, almost immediately state budget officials across the country started to warn of the impact it would have on the way they do business. But noticeably silent were many Republican governors, who generally have not loudly criticized their House colleagues for their role in a shutdown that could have serious implications for states.

READ: Full coverage of the federal shutdown's impact on states and localities.

Indeed, Republican governors are stuck in a bit of a political pickle: They don't want their own states to suffer from the effects of a shutdown, but many agree with conservative members of the House who want to stop health reform.

Moreover, while some Republican governors may very well have preferred to avoid a shutdown, they risk alienating conservative voters if they condemn it too forcefully. Case in point: The Republican Governors Association has had nothing to say about the situation.

But Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who heads the association, seemed to cheer on his House colleagues in a piece published by the conservative news website Daily Caller on the first day of the shutdown. "We would like to see [Obamacare] repealed and replaced, not to score political points, but to save our nation’s health care from higher costs and lesser care," Jindal wrote. "We appreciate all the Republicans in Washington fighting to do just that."

And in the weeks leading up to a shutdown, Jindal encouraged his Republicans colleagues to "use every tactic, every option we can to repeal and replace Obamacare" during an appearance on NBC’s "Meet the Press."

It’s a tricky position for Jindal, considering how a prolonged shutdown could impact Louisianans. Louisiana has the country's second-highest poverty rate among states, and budget experts say a long-term shutdown would disproportionately impact federally-funded, state-administered programs that help the poor, like food stamps and subsidized school lunches.

Other Republicans governors have taken a less fiery approach. Texas Gov. Rick Perry didn't advocate for a shutdown, and in the days leading to it, he told the Dallas Morning News that Congress should be focused on fixing the health reform law rather than "drawing lines in the sand." But by the time the shutdown occurred, he didn’t blame Republicans for attaching a policy provision to a routine spending bill. Instead, he said Democrats should have been more willing to compromise on Obamacare.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another opponent of Obamacare, took a similar approach. She emphasized that she didn't believe a shutdown was the best way to deal with criticisms of health reform. But in a Tuesday post to her Facebook page, she blamed the shutdown squarely on President Obama, and had nothing to say of House Republicans, even though polls indicate the public overwhelmingly holds them responsible. "It is inexcusable for the President to allow this to happen in our country," she wrote.

On the other extreme from Jindal are Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer.

Through her position as chair of the National Governors Association, Fallin urged Washington to avoid a shutdown. "Unfortunately, the possible consequences to state economies of a federal shutdown or not increasing the national debt limit are severe," she wrote in a letter that was also signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat.

A vocal critic of Obamacare, Walker also unambiguously opposed the shutdown technique in the days leading up to it. "I believe the Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable, and will have a negative impact on the economy of my state," he told The Washington Post in late September. "But I don’t extend that to the point that we should shut down the government over it."

Brewer, also an Obamacare critic, told reporters Wednesday that she believes the law is not going away, and she opposes the GOP's efforts to delay its implementation. "I think that it’s pretty much carved in stone, the direction of where Obama health care is going," Brewer said, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. "And I believe they need to get us a budget or a continuing resolution, and we need to get America, the United States, back on track."

Unlike some other Republican governors, she didn't blame Democrats alone for the shutdown, saying both parties in Congress as well as the president are to blame.

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