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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.
This is being written several hours after the Senate summarily rejected yet another proposal from the House to tie funding for the government to changes in Obamacare.
The House then moved to do something it should have done days...or at least hours...ago: officially request a conference with the Senate on the continuing resolution so that formal negotiations over the fiscal 2014 continuing resolution can get underway. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) then adjourned the Senate until 9:30 am EDT and indicated that he expects that the request for a conference will be rejected until the House adopts a short-term CR that funds the government.
What all of the legislative maneuvering means is that the federal government shutdown many (or perhaps most) people thought would be avoided has started and will be in effect for a while.
It also means that the question has now changed from "Will there be a shutdown?" to "How long will it last?".
Here's what you need to know about the logistics of the shutdown.
I will admit right upfront that there is a little bit of wishful thinking in what you're about to read.
But it's only a little bit. And my realizing that it exists hasn't changed my analysis that a government shutdown could be the point that historians one day point to as the beginning of the end for the tea partiers in Congress.
I've come to this conclusion for two reasons
First, many people don't remember that the beginning of the end of Newt Gingrich's speakership began when Republicans were blamed for the two shutdowns in 1995 and 1996.
The comparison is anything but perfect. But given that Gingrich and congressional Republicans were far more popular in the mid-1990s than the tea party is today, and in light of the fact that the tea party and not House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) or Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is most likely to bear the blame if a shutdown occurs, there's a good reason to think that at least some of the TP's supporters will find themselves cursing the tea party's name very soon, especially when the shutdown begins to affect them negatively.
It was virtually inevitable that House Republicans would amend the Senate-passed continuing resolution with changes the Senate has already said it won't accept.
To understand why, I need to again refer back to something I posted more than two years ago, right after I was the first speaker at the first meeting of the House tea party caucus. (You can read all the details here.)
I was talking informally with a number of the members of Congress who had been there after the meeting ended. There was unanimous agreement among those members that the biggest thing the House GOP had done wrong during the 1995 and 1995-96 shutdowns was that it had given in to Bill Clinton too early. The GOP would have gotten a much better deal, they told me, if it had pushed harder and been willing to keep the government closed longer.
One of the biggest differences between the current shutdown situation and the ones that occurred in 1995 and 1996 is that Bill Clinton could negotiate with Newt Gingrich knowing that the deal they agreed to would be accepted by their respective political parties.
That's absolutely not the case today.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) clearly does not speak for the House GOP caucus. Indeed, Boehner has been slapped down by his caucus so often and so hard in recent days that it's more likely almost anything he would agree to will be rejected out of hand than it will be taken seriously.
There's no one after Boehner. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has shown no willingness to take the lead. In addition, with Cantor supporting the Boehner plans that have been rejected, it is not clear that he has the ability to convince the House GOP caucus to do anything either.
And if that's not enough, Cantor's performance during the fiscal cliff negotiations, when he unilaterally stopped negotiating with Vice President Biden rather than compromise, creates grave doubts about his willingness and ability to be of help this time around.
#cliffgate is my term.
Everything else you see here about the current political situation in the U.S. is from Fallows. It's short and chilling.
The money quote:
All eyes will be on the Senate today as it votes mid-afternoon on whether to proceed to a vote on the continuing resolution. Unless something unexpected happens and that vote fails, the Senate is widely expected to strip out the GOP-preferred provision that would prevent federal agencies from spending any money to implement Obamacare and then send a clean bill back to the House.
It's what happens in the House that will determine whether there's a government shutdown next Tuesday.
At this very late point in the debate, it's hard to discern even a hint of a strategy among House Republicans about what to do and how to get it done. The GOP plan that seemed to be emerging to vote this week on a debt ceiling extension that included tea party legislative priorities and punt on the CR was abandoned yesterday when the leadership realized it didn't have the votes from its own caucus to pass that bill.
That leaves the CR as the vehicle of choice for the tea party wing of the House GOP.
So the questions for this weekend all have to do with House Republicans. Will they:
A government shutdown and #cliffgate may still not occur.
But those who are discounting the chances of it happening have far more confidence in the willingness of the tea party wing of the House GOP to act rationally at the last minute as its dreams of being seen as uncompromising and defiant are close to being realized than I do.
Here's why will it be up to the tea party wing and not, as many others are saying, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to decide whether a shutdown occurs.
Now that the House has passed a continuing resolution that the Senate won't accept because it defunds Obamacare, the budget process choreography for the coming week will be as follows:
This is being written less than 10 full days before the start of the new fiscal year. Four of these days occur over a weekend.
As I said in my previous post, none of the individual appropriations for fiscal 2014 have yet been enacted and none have any chance of being enacted.
The House earlier today passed a continuing resolution that, in theory would keep the government funded until December 15 and, therefore, avoid a shutdown. But the bill includes a poison pill -- defunding Obamacare -- that Senate Democrats and the White House say they absolutely won't accept in any form.
As a result, barely a week before the fiscal year begins, the process for avoiding a government shutdown has barely moved from the situation that existed a week, a month, and six months ago. Because of that, a shutdown has to be considered more likely now than it was when this week started.