March 29, 2011 -- For months, Democrats have been accusing Republicans of pushing Congress toward a government shutdown that could be catastrophic for the economy.
But now one prominent Democrat says a government shutdown would be "the best thing in the world" for his party.
"From a partisan point of view, I think it would be the best thing in the world to have a shutdown," Sen. Howard Dean said Tuesday at a National Journal Insider Conference's panel.
That's because, Dean said, Republicans would be blamed for it.
"If I was head of DNC, I would be quietly rooting for it," Dean said. "I know who's going to get blamed. We've been down this road before."
Privately, many Democrats have been saying the same thing, but by putting it in such inelegant political terms, Dean's words make it harder for Democrats to argue that it is Republicans who are to blame if the current budget impasse leads to a government shutdown.
Funding for the government runs out on April 8. Congress must pass -- and the president must sign -- a funding bill before then to avoid a shutdown.
Dean's comments came after a misstep by the Senate Democrats' message man Chuck Schumer.
Schumer was caught on a conference call instructing four fellow senators to paint Republicans as "extreme" in the budget negotiations.
"I always use the word extreme," Schumer told them, according to The New York Times. "That is what the caucus instructed me to use this week."
Schumer was on a conference call with reporters, but apparently thought his line was muted.
Republicans quickly pounced on Dean and Schumer's remarks as evidence that Democrats are more concerned with winning the political fight -- even at the risk of a government shutdown -- than hashing out an agreement on federal funding.
"One thing that's not particularly helpful in reaching an agreement are some of the comments on the other side," the Senate's top Republican Mitch McConnell said this afternoon, highlighting Dean and Schumer's words. "The discussions that are going on between the two majorities in the two Houses presumably are in good faith, trying to reach a conclusion. They're ongoing, and we hope we'll be able to do that sometime in the very near future."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid countered by arguing that Republicans are so "afraid" of alienating the Tea Party that they are willing to bring the government to a screeching halt come April 9.
"Why are they afraid? Are they afraid to tell the extreme Tea Party members of their caucus that they're trying to find common ground with Democrats? Does that somehow embarrass them? There are reasonable Republicans in the House who want to see us reach a compromise. We know that from the last vote," Reid said. "They seem to be afraid to anger a small extreme minority in their party that's willing to shut down the government, put the economy at risk of killing at least 700,000 jobs. Republicans need to decide which is worse, angering their Tea Party base or shutting down the government, threatening our fragile economy even more."
In case you were counting, Reid used the word "extreme" twice. At least some Democrats stayed on message today.