#cliffgate Update: Is A Shutdown Boehner's Only Way Out?
Let's start by reviewing the situation.
- As of today there are less than two weeks before fiscal 2014 begins.
- None of the FY14 appropriations have been enacted; none have any chance of being enacted.
- There are no formal negotiations going on between Congress and the White House, between the House and Senate or between Democrats and Republicans.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.