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#cliffgate Update: Is A Shutdown Boehner's Only Way Out?

17 Sep 2013
Posted by Stan Collender

I'm quickly coming to the conclusion that a government shutdown may be the only way to deal with the coming budget bedlam and #cliffgate.

Let's start by reviewing the situation.

  1. As of today there are less than two weeks before fiscal 2014 begins.
  2. None of the FY14 appropriations have been enacted; none have any chance of being enacted.
  3. There are no formal negotiations going on between Congress and the White House, between the House and Senate or between Democrats and Republicans.
  4. The only discussions that seem to be taking place are between the two main factions in the House GOP...and the best thing that can be said about them is that they appear to be going nowhere.
  5. The original plan suggested by the House Republican leadership was flatly rejected by the tea partiers in the House GOP caucus. The tea partiers were energized by their success.
  6. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) haven't put a new plan on the table since their last plan was rejected by members of their own party a week ago. Boehner has even indicated publicly that he's not sure whether there is a plan than is acceptable to his caucus.
  7. Meanwhile, in keeping with the tradition that the House goes first on CRs, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has said he is going to wait for the House to act before moving forward. What happens when/if he moves forward is anyone's guess
  8. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has far less room to maneuver compared to previous budget fights because he is being challenged in the GOP Kentucky primary by a tea partier.
  9. House Democrats, who in the past have provided the votes to help the House GOP pass budget-related bills when the Republican caucus couldn't decide what to do, this time seem hell bent on not doing it again.
  10. The White House has far less sway over congressional Democrats now than it did before the 2012 election. Needless to say, it has almost none over congressional Republicans.
  11. The extremely negative political impact of the 1995-96 shutdowns is such a distant (or nonexistent) memory for so many House Republicans that it's not at all clear they have any fear of it happening again in 2013.
  12. To top it all off, this year's budget debate is less about the budget than it is about defunding Obamacare and that makes a compromise far harder on the budget issues.

Two things usually help with a political stalemate like this (although I'm not really sure there ever has been a situation exactly like this one):

  • A charismatic leader who can overcome the partisan warfare
  • A crisis that substantially changes the politics

It's hard to see any leader emerging in the short-term In the current hyper partisan environment. And while there are many charismatic politicians, at least right now none have the stature with both parties to negotiate a budget peace plan.

That leaves a crisis, and baring a military or foreign policy disaster, the only one with the potential to create enough political pain in a relatively short period of time is a federal shutdown.

That makes a shutdown a better option for Boehner, Cantor, McConnell and Reid than it might otherwise seem.

A shutdown also may work for Boehner because (1) it will show his tea partiers that he was willing to allow it to happen as they wanted, (2) it will change the politics as many voters go from being amused to being furious and (3) the tea partiers may be able to use the shutdown with their own voters to prove their political testosterone.

Is it possible that we get to the brink on September 30 at 11 pm and everyone decides that a short-term CR and a cooling off period is needed? Absolutely. Is it as likely this year as it has been in the past? Absolutely not.

One problem with a shutdown.

There's one huge problem for Boehner in a shutdown that I see.

At some point, the Republicans will cave. It could be before or after a shutdown or debt ceiling breach or whatever, but the thing is that the government will open up again at some point, and I really doubt Obama will repeal Obamacare by that point.

So imagine that there's a shutdown, and there's immense pressure from constituents to reopen the government, and Obama still won't budge. Eventually, Boehner will pass a bill to reopen the government, likely with a lot of Democratic votes.

The Tea Party will still be mad. They'll argue that if the "RINOs" had held on just a little bit longer, Obama would have surrendered.

So I don't see how this will help Boehner's standing among the Tea Party. They'll think he's a sellout for Obama regardless of what happens as long as there isn't a 100% surrender from Democrats.


ISTM that the president should interpret his authority very narrowly...An "orderly shutdown" of government operations certainly includes having the air traffic controllers stay on post long enough to land aircraft. I DON'T think that it includes allowing new aircraft to take off. We've seen that it is perfectly possible to close down civilian airspace and in my opinion the president should do so, or at least reduce traffic to "life flights." That should be achievable with fewer air traffic controllers and without authority to pay any of them...

Obama will not paint a target on his back

Precedent is otherwise on what activity continues. In fact, the shutdown tends to get loosened the longer it continues. If Obama does otherwise, as you suggest, then he becomes the story, the bad guy, not the GOP. Obama will scold but not do anything differently than in other shutdowns.

Is #9 Quite True?

For sure, the most important thing is that, as Barney Frank described Congressional Republicans, “Half of them are Michele Bachmann. The other half are afraid of losing a primary to Michele Bachmann.”

So, all Republicans have to noisily demonstrate that when it comes to the president, they've got the hate, hate, hate down in their hearts. When the whole point of Republican politics is dislike of perceived outsiders, compromise becomes rather difficult. (The merits of the issue, as we saw in the Affordable Care Act debate, are entirely irrelevant).

Is it true that Dems aren't going to help Boehner and the rump of semi-rational Republicans get out of this, though? It's seemed to me that on atypical, important votes like avoiding a shutdown and raising the debt ceiling, Democrats have been there to get Boehner out of self-imposed catastrophes.

Have they really said "forget it this time", has Boehner asked them for more than they are willing to give?

@reflectionephemeral The

@reflectionephemeral The issue is the funding levels. Boehner isn't just trying to pass a continuing resolution, he's not even just trying to pass a continuing resolution with the sequestration intact in it. Boehner is trying to pass a continuing resolution that maintains the sequester numbers for domestic spending BUT lifts the sequester off of defense spending.

In essence he's trying to remove the part of the sequestration that the GOP hates without removing anything that the Dems hate. That is why congressional Dems are universally against it. He's trying to turn a policy (sequestration) that was designed to punish both sides into a policy that'll punish only the Dems. Of course they won't help him. They don't want him to win on this.

Boehner's problem is that the Tea Party doesn't want to help him with winning a modest victory, they want him to do the impossible: repeal legislation that was passed by a House Majority and a Senate Supermajority and signed into law by a President using only a House Majority and some incendiary language. That's like trying to move a boulder put in place by an industrial crane using a car jack and a prayer.

Thanks, that's really helpful

That exemplifies why it's such a terrible idea to attempt a "grand bargain" with the current GOP.

If they agreed to, say, means testing Social Security to save 0.1% of the budget, ten months later they'd turn around and savage Social Security as welfare. L'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de l'audace.

You can't strike an enduring bargain-- if you can strike a bargain at all-- with a group of people whose raison d'etre is to oppose you.

Point 8

I had not considered your point 8. Interesting article as always, thank you!

Another Way Out

Boehner resigns. A handful of Repubs join Dems and elect Pelosi speaker. Tea Party shut out.

Not quite that way

A more realistic scenario is that a relatively moderate R gets 20-30 Rs to join Dems to elect him/her speaker. No R is going to vote for Pelosi or any other D for that matter.


I don't I'd vote for Pelosi...

Not quite that way response

Quite frankly a horrible idea. First, how can you be sure that the R is not a closet tea partier? Secondly, that happened this year with the state senate in Washington. The result is that the leader has no real power base, and gridlock gets worse.

When are Barry and the R's with rudimentary intelligence going to wake up and go on the attack against the tea partiers? Appeasement is not working. It is time to not only change the strategy but pin the blame where it belongs. Boehner will go down in history as a complete failure, while the pin head, pencil necks from rural AK, GA, and NC will be soon forgotten.

Shutting down is not the only

Shutting down is not the only way for Boehner. There are many options and roads. I hope you can get out of the situation, it happens sometimes.

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