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Tea party Republicans: No compromise on government shutdown

By David Lauter

1:47 PM EDT, September 23, 2013

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WASHINGTON -- As the deadline draws closer for large parts of the federal government to begin shutting down, backers of the nation’s three major political factions have very different views on whether their representatives should compromise or hold firm.

By more than a 3-to-1 margin, Republicans who identify with the tea party said they want lawmakers who agree with them to “stand by their principles, even if that means the government shuts down,” according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

By contrast, majorities of Republicans who do not identify with the tea party, as well as most Democrats, said they want lawmakers who agree with them on the issues to “be more willing to compromise, even if that means they pass a budget you disagree with.”

Democrats took that position, 76%-18%, while non-tea party Republicans said so 54%-38%. Independents also said they prefer compromise, 52%-36%.

The findings, from a poll taken this weekend, reinforce the results of a Gallup poll from earlier this month. The Gallup survey showed that, overall, the percentage of Americans who want lawmakers to compromise more has risen in recent years.

But, the survey found, those who identify themselves as tea party supporters disagreed and were considerably more likely than other Americans to say it was “more important for political leaders in Washington to stick to their beliefs” than to compromise.

The contrast underlies much of what will take place over the next week in Congress. The current federal budget year ends Sept. 30. Tea party-backed conservatives in the House and Senate have vowed to block action on any measure providing money for the new budget year unless President Obama agrees to stop his signature healthcare bill from going into effect.

Obama has refused to consider doing that, and his Democratic allies, who have the majority in the Senate, have stood by him, meaning that the two sides are headed for a collision.

Republican congressional leaders, most of whom do not belong to the party’s tea party wing, have been trying to find a way out of the stalemate for weeks, so far to no avail. The fervent desire of tea party stalwarts to avoid a compromise has given lawmakers little room to maneuver.

In the Pew survey, a majority of those who identified with the tea party also said that if the government shuts down, the result would be a “minor effect” on the U.S. economy. Majorities of Democrats, independents and non-tea-party Republicans said they expect the effect would be “major.”

Besides fearing the effect on the economy, Republican leaders have feared a political impact. Based on what happened in the last major government shutdown, in 1995 and 1996, they have said they think the public will blame Republicans for whatever harm a shutdown causes.

So far, at least, the Pew poll does not suggest that is happening. Americans are almost evenly divided on who would be to blame, Republicans or the Obama administration.

The poll also shows that, so far, much of the public has not paid a lot of attention to the prospect of a shutdown, with one-quarter of those polled saying they were following news of the situation “very closely.”

That’s consistent with public interest in previous such standoffs, which rose as the deadline became imminent.

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david.lauter@latimes.com

Twitter: @davidlauter