By Bernie Becker and Bob CusackÂ -The Hill
President Obama has been able to keep the partisan battle over a government shutdown at armâ€™s length, reaping the political benefits of a Senate majority that President Clinton didnâ€™t have in 1995.
With a temporary measure to fund the government through March 4 set to expire, Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill have engaged in an intense back-and-forth over spending cuts and which party is trying to pave the way for a shuttered federal government.
All the while, the White House has stayed somewhat above the fray, stressing that it does not believe a shutdown will occur but that contingency plans are in place, if necessary.
That approach stands in stark contrast to the run-up to the shutdowns that occurred during Clintonâ€™s first term, when the 42nd president was the face of Democratic negotiations with Republican leaders, including then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (Kan.).
This time around, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) have held a handful of press availabilities to go after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and, more pointedly, House GOP freshman members. Schumer, who heads the messaging operation for the Senate Democrats, has suggested that the new conservative members want a government shutdown.
Obama, meanwhile, has vowed to veto the House GOPâ€™s spending bill, which calls for $61 billion in cuts. But he and his administration have adopted a measured tone, and not issued ultimatums or attacked Boehner or the new Tea Party lawmakers.
The White House has kept to its talking points and refrained from generating much news on a possible shutdown. In fact, Obama has been attracting headlines on other issues, such as the Defense of Marriage Act and unrest in the Middle East and North Africa. While those are big issues, a government shutdown would likely be a defining moment for Obamaâ€™s presidency â€” as it was for Clintonâ€™s.
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