No one can say that President Barack Obama and his administration weren't thinking of the American people during the budget standoff with Republicans. Their inconvenience was very much on his mind.
According to White House sources, in the weeks leading up to last week's push for a budget deal, the President approved plans that had the White House and federal agencies looking at every federal government resource that entailed public interaction, and whether it could be shut down during a closure of the government -- even if under normal government closures those resources would have or could have remained open.
"The goal was to inflict as much inconvenience and pain on the American public and lock them into supporting the Administration's perspective on the budget fight," says a White House source. "It was our nuclear option, but we saw how a government shutdown under Gingrich just destroyed Republican standing with the public, and we felt we could achieve that kind of damage and more, even if we really didn't have to."
For example, a number of websites that provide the public with information about everything from Social Security options to veterans services, even public-private educational websites operated by the Smithsonian, would have been shut down by the Obama Administration had a government closure taken place Saturday morning. "Those sites don't even involve government employees to operate, but we were going to shut them down anyway just to hit home the right message with the public," says the White House aide.
White House sources say some agencies, like the Smithsonian, which manages a number of the museums and Washington attractions tourists prize most during their visits, pushed back on shutting down the websites, but were overridden by the White House.
While about 800,000 federal employees might not have gone to work on Monday, the White House did have options to ensure that visitors to Washington got at least some of their tax-dollars worth. For example, the Smithsonian could have been identified as a federal program requiring "essential personnel," so that public-facing employees, such as security guards, docents, and exhibit managers, would be present to enable tourists to visit the museums. Also, museum employees covered by private foundation grants for specific exhibits could have been deployed. But the Obama Administration shot down all those plans, putting in place a draconian government shutdown plan.
"Basically, making life easy for the American public was not something that would have helped us," says another White House aide. "We controlled the executive branch and the federal environment. How could we basically do what would have been great for tourists, and then have media reports showing business as usual in Washington for tourists that undercut our arguments and our fight?"
Mitt Romney's Washington team is pushing hard to lock up supporters and potential fundraisers for his 2012 race, and the pitch his people are presenting is interesting. According to attendees at such recruitment meetings, Romney continues to believe his faith has little or no impact in the campaign. "The only candidate they seem worried about is [Minnesota Governor Tim] Pawlenty, everyone else is just second tier to them, and they think they can take Pawlenty out pretty quickly," says one attendee.
Another recruiting target reports that at a recruitment lunch he attended Romney aides were dismissive of a run by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels ("He's not running; we have people on the inside telling us everything"), and openly ridiculing a potential run by Mississippi Haley Barbour ("Can you imagine what a debate between Haley and Obama would look and sound like? No independent voter is going to support someone like that").
In fact, Daniels continues to deliberate, but is believed to have informally put in place all of the necessary elements to launch a presidential nomination bid, most importantly a fundraising infrastructure. Meanwhile, Barbour is actually having success recruiting former Romney senior aides who aren't willing to go another round with the former Massachusetts governor whom Obama Administration aides claim "inspired the President's health care reform plan."
Despite the baggage that Romney carries, he remains the formidable candidate in the race, though, as with 2008, it's the candidates who aren't yet in the field that most conservatives seem most interested in following. "You'd think the Romney people would have learned that disparaging the competition and acting like the bully on the playground just backfires on you," says one of the potential recruits. "It's not anything I want to be a part of. After this administration, a little humility is something that will go a long way in winning over people and that's just not something in the Romney camp's DNA, I think."