SUMMERVILLE — A second government shutdown is “less likely” to occur in January, U.S. Sen. Tim Scott said Monday, even as Congress and the country remain bitterly divided over how best to settle the economic friction in Washington.

“I try not to answer hypothetical questions,” Scott said following a lunchtime address to local business leaders.

But he added, “The chances are probably better than the last time that we won’t see a 16-day or perhaps even a shutdown.”

Jan. 16 is the next potential government closure date under the short-term spending agreement that ended — or some say postponed — the most recent deadlock this month. The Treasury Department was also cleared to pay the nation’s higher debt-ceiling bills through Feb. 7.

Scott said the more important date is Dec. 13, when a bipartisan conference on a federal spending plan meets to hammer out a budget path led by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington.

“I think both sides prefer to get it done in advance,” Scott said of finding a solution before the next 11th hour.

“If we accomplish that, we’ll be in far better shape come January 15,” he said.

Scott’s comments followed his appearance at the Greater Summerville/Dorchester County Chamber of Commerce’s Industry Appreciation Luncheon and after much of Congress is still coming out of its post-shutdown hangover. Both sides agree that the 16-day closure, which cost the nation’s economy an estimated $24 billion, should not happen again, but there is no guarantee against a repeat.

And while much of the country is blaming tea-party-aligned Republicans for shuttering the government, Scott, R-S.C., put the burden on Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and the White House for refusing to negotiate over spending concerns.

“I think it’s a skewed perspective driven by some of the more liberal outlets,” Scott said of the Republican criticisms.

Scott was among the Republicans who voted against the Senate proposal that raised the national debt limit and reopened the federal government. The state’s other U.S. senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, voted for it.

Meanwhile, all six Republican members in the state’s House of Representatives delegation opposed the debt plan that eventually was adopted by a majority of the House. South Carolina’s only Democrat in the House, Jim Clyburn, voted for the proposal.

Elsewhere, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison on Monday declined to say whether he thinks the 16 days of the shutdown will translate into helping Democrats win upcoming elections in the state.

“We will see,” he said during an appearance in Charleston.

The party plans to have a Democrat candidate run in every congressional race held by tea party Republicans who voted to keep the government closed, risking the nation’s credit, he said.

“We will put up an alternative to all of those guys,” he said.

Harrison conceded that Republicans have “so gerrymandered” election districts that it’s hard for Democrats to win.

“If our savior came down and ran as a Democrat, I don’t know if he’d win,” Harrison said.

Doug Pardue contributed to this story. Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551 or at