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The countdown to a government shutdown has begun. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Democrats have still not reached an agreement on funding the government, much of which will stop functioning on Friday if no deal is struck. Recent polling indicates that voters are slightly more inclined to blame Democrats than Republicans for a government shutdown, though an earlier poll showed they'd be split. But the GOP may have just shot itself in the foot by deciding to introduce Paul Ryan's controversial, entitlement-slashing budget plan for next year the very same week they move towards a shutdown. Though Ryan's 2012 budget isn't germane to the current negotiations—which concern funding the government for rest of 2011, using a bill known as a "Continuing Resolution" (CR)—people who aren't familiar with the intricacies of the budget negotiations may be inclined to lump both proposals together.
Even House Republicans admitted as much on Tuesday. As I reported in my story today, some GOPers seem outright baffled by Boehner's decision to tackle both 2011 and 2012 budgets simultaneously. Rep. Lee Terry (R-Idaho) admitted as much when I spoke with him on Tuesday, after Ryan officially released his plan. "A lot of people back home are confusing the CR with the  budget," he said. Terry appeared confident that voters would ultimately figure out the difference—and credit the GOP for being bold enough to tackle both. But I'm not so sure that will happen.
What's more, Democrats may even try to encourage this confusion in the public's mind, at least indirectly. They've already pointed to Ryan's budget as just more evidence of GOP extremism. And, in fact, Boehner may have pushed Ryan's plan this week in hopes of appeasing his party's right-wing if and when he finally comes to a CR deal with the Democrats. Certainly, if there's a shutdown, Democrats will try to drive the Ryan connection home to the public.