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As I posted yesterday, House and Senate budget conferees will meet for the first time this week as they begin a process that has a built-in December 13 deadline. It's either budget agreement by that Friday the 13th or bust.
Bust is far more likely. Here's why.
1. There is no agreement about the problem. Almost all previous successfully concluded budget deals have been based on at least a tacit up front agreement about what the two sides are trying to accomplish. Without that this time, Republicans and Democrats will spend a great deal -- maybe even most -- of their time arguing about what they should be debating rather than the possible answers.
2. There's no need for a deal #1. This is not a situation where the political or economic world will collapse if a deal doesn't get done. The debt ceiling has already been raised, taxes won't be raised automatically, the government won't shut down, Wall Street isn't threatening higher interest rates if there's no deal to reduce the deficit, etc.
The speculation about what the conference committee -- the 29-person House-Senate committee that has until December 13 to negotiate a budget deal and which will meet for the first time this Wednesday -- will do will be intense all this week.
In fact, if history is any indication, every interest group in town will be so certain that the one thing it most cares about will be given away in the opening session that it will denounce what the conference committee does even before the first meeting begins.
And pundits across the political spectrum will be predicting that the conference committee will defy expectations and a big budget deal of some kind not only is possible but actually likely.
The technical term for all of this is B.S. (and I don't mean "Bachelor of Science").
The meeting on Wednesday is just the opening session. The 29 members of the conference committee won't do anything other than preen for the cameras and give 5-minute opening statements. 29x5 = almost two and a half hours of vapid oral essays that will have no bearing at all on the deliberations.
I have far less hope for the post-shutdown talks that are about to get underway than many of the others who follow, analyze, comment and report on federal budget doings.
Actually, I am astounded at how quickly so many people who should know better seem to have forgotten the insanity of the past few years that led to the total craziness of the past few weeks and have decided there are no lessons to be learned from what happened.
Here's what I've learned.
It's nice to see that some members of Congress, especially some Republicans, have already rejected another showdown when the current continuing resolution expire and debt ceiling expire. It's important to note, however, that the representatives and senators who have said this are not the ones who will determine whether it happens again. Until tea partiers in both houses say a shutdown and debt ceiling fight isn't going to happen, the threat has to be considered a real possibility.
Some quick thoughts this morning:
1. It's still no better than 50-50 ("a coin flip" as @thefix said to me on Washington Post TV last week) that the debt ceiling will be raised by October 17, the date Treasury says it will run out of the ability to use "extraordinary measures" and the government will have to operate just from the cash it has on hand every day.
2. If anything the situation has gotten worse rather than better over the past few days with House Republicans in open warfare against their GOP Senate colleagues. It appears that House Republicans need to get something out of the box the are in with the government shutdown and debt ceiling even if it means extracting a pound of political flesh from their own party to do it.
3. Let me say this yet again as directly as possible: John Boehner (R-OH) is the weakest and least effective speaker in my lifetime, and he may come close to taking the all-time title.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) pretty much got what he wanted from week 1 of The Great Shutdown of 2013. Boehner demonstrated to his caucus what he was willing to do for it -- allow the government to be shutdown -- and it seems to be very appreciative of his efforts.
For that matter, the White House and congressional Democrats also got what they wanted in week 1. The White House and House and Senate Ds held firm to their no negotiating strategy and appear to be more unified than they've been in years. And the polls showed that, as expected but hardly guaranteed, it is the GOP rather than the Democrats that are being increasingly blamed for the shutdown.
All sides are now in a better position to cut a deal. Boehner, President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) have all now amply demonstrated to their respective constituencies that they are indeed the hard asses they wanted them to be. All of the leader are, therefore, are in a better position to convince their colleagues that a shutdown-ending deal is acceptable.
Here's what I told Chris Ciliizza (@thefx) on Post TV yesterday.
All government shutdown-concerned eyes yesterday seemed to be on the two meetings that took place at the White House. Financial company CEOs met with the president in the morning and congressional leaders in the late afternoon.
But the real shutdown news was being made in Connecticut, where United Technologies announced that it would furlough 2000 workers each of the next two weeks if the shutdown continues.
The reason these nonfederal workers will stop being paid? Because the Defense Contract Management Agency is closed and its inspectors aren't available to review the Black Hawk helicopters the company is making for the Pentagon.
If they happen, the layoffs will occur in Stratford, Connecticut; West Palm Beach, Florida, and Troy, Alabama.
This is exactly the kind of news that will rapidly change the politics of the shutdown and make it easier/mandatory for a member of Congress who so far has supported the shutdown or refused to admit defeat to insist the government be reopened.
I'm not sure whether this makes me laugh, cry or wince.
1. House Republicans refused all year to appoint conferees on the fiscal 2014 budget resolution.
2. Senate Democrats tried multiple times to pass a motion requesting a conference with the House on the 2014 budget resolution, but Senate Republicans each time prevented it from happening.
3. Late yesterday, the roles completely reversed. House Republicans requested to go to conference with the Senate on a 2014 continuing resolution that's needed in part because the two houses were unable to conference on the budget resolution, but Senate Democrats said they will not agree to the House request.
The popular and far more dramatic term used by the media and elected officials to describe what happens when new funding for an agency or department isn't enacted before the existing funding expires is "shutdown."
But the technical term used by federal budget geeks is "lapse in appropriations." That's what's happening now: Appropriations have lapsed.
Although almost everyone has focused on the lapses that occurred in 1995 and 1996, they actually occurred a number of times in the 1970s and 1980s.
You haven't heard much about them for several reasons:
1. Most of these lapses were short or happened over a weekend. They were barely noticed at the time and are not memorable now.
2. The lapses were not typically government-wide. Instead, they only happened to one or two agencies or departments.