Government Shutdown Coming? Definitely Maybe!

By now, you're probably asking yourself: is there going to be a government shutdown? And the answer is: I don't know! Maybe? Probably? It's impossible to know right now if all the lines drawn in the sand are part of some grand base-building performance art project or if they're actually serious. This could all get pushed to the last minute and then everyone ends up taking the deal on the table. Or not! Maybe the best thing you can do right now is check to see where your home sits in relation to various levees.

Yesterday, those on both sides of the debate seemed coalesced around the idea that $73 billion in cuts needed to be made. The question was: whose cuts should be made, Democrats or Republicans? And which "policy riders" -- by which we mean H.R. 1 stuff like defunding Planned Parenthood that's not going to make it through the Senate anyway, let alone be signed into law by the President -- will remain part of the deal? (Yesterday, House Speaker John Boehner said that those riders had to remain "on the table.")

Let's get into some explanation of all the numbers you are going to hear this morning, because yesterday was focused on a $73 billion figure, and today everyone is reporting that the "new compromise" is $40 billion, and you might be thinking, "Huh, what?" If we're working with the 2011 budget as a baseline, both sides were at the table talking about hitting the $73 billion figure. The GOP originally sought $100 billion in cuts overall. But if we're talking about current levels -- set by the two previous continuing resolutions -- then Boehner is now suggesting $40 billion in additional cuts. That's up $7 billion from yesterday. That additional $7 billion represents the additional give that the House GOP is seeking. Maybe that gets the deal done.

If so, it would tend to indicate that Boehner is at least backing off what looked like a goal post moving late hour twist. Per Greg Sargent:

A senior Senate Democratic aide tells me that in today's private meeting at the White House, Speaker John Boehner signaled to the President and to Harry Reid that Republicans were not willing to support any budget compromise that can't garner the votes of 218 Republicans in the House. That would be a break from the GOP's previous posture: Republican leaders had appeared willing to reach a deal that could pass the House with Republican and Democratic support, even if it meant losing some Republicans.

Harry Reid is expected to make an accusation along these lines today when he speaks to the press, the aide tells me, though this could change, depending on fast-shifting circumstances.

"Our takeaway from the meeting was that Republicans will not accept anything that cannot pass the House without 218 Republican votes," the aide tells me. "That means $73 billion isn't good enough."

If you're keeping score, that would mean the essential ground that Boehner is asking the White House to give is to be allowed to pass the budget measure without a single Democrat agreeing to it. Reid levelled that accusation, as he said he would, and Boehner spokesman Michael Steel quickly denied it. As Michael Tomasky points out, a 218-GOP-votes-or-bust demand would have gotten pretty interesting:

But if Reid is correct, this is truly scandalous. This means Boehner will pass a bill only if it can pass among Republicans only! Forget a majority of the majority. This is 90% of the majority (218 out of 241). He's negotiating with his own caucus. The other party means nothing. He doesn't want a Democratic vote. It functionally won't count to him.

So let's review. Boehner shook hands on $33 billion. Then he got heat from his caucus and said no, $40 billion, at the eleventh hour. Then, if Reid is to be believed, he also said Democratic votes in the House don't count. I need to pass this with 218 Republicans.

There's a name for that. Actually there are several. None of them is "democracy."

Indeed, the conventional pose of Beltway pundits is that lawmaking only really "counts" when there's broad bipartisan support for something. Let's recall that back during the Affordable Care Act debate, David Broder disparaged party line votes as something that wouldn't "survive the inevitable vagaries of the shakedown period." He's not around anymore, to blather on and on about bipartisanship-sauce, but it would have been interesting to see the press corps he was the "Dean" of react to that demand. Maybe they would decry it for its partisan-ness, like Tomasky, as if both parties were expected to hew to the same standard. (But yeah, it's more likely they would have rewarded Boehner for being "bold," though.)

While we're on the matter of relative boldness, let's recall the President's position on all of this. Yesterday, when asked if getting a deal done was a "test of his leadership," Obama responded thusly:

OBAMA: Now, with respect to the second question, I think what the American people expect from me is the same thing that they expect from every member of Congress, and that is that we're looking out for the interests of the American people and not trying to score political points.

Of course, Boehner, in standing behind the H.R. 1 policy riders, thinks that his constituents are looking to him to "score political points." Obama, not so much. It's a real bummer, I guess, to be the de facto head of a political party that is expected, on occasion, to "attempt politics."

I basically agree with the way Jim Newell summarizes all of yesterday's wranglings:

It's hard to tell what percentage of the news about "talks breaking down" is just posturing to satisfy the warrior mentality in a certain party's base. It wouldn't be surprising to learn that they've reached a basic deal already, and Boehner is just trying to show the Tea Party folks that he's not caving. The Democrats will throw a few billion more in cuts at the last minute, and they'll pass it.

The only thing that's changed in the meanwhile is that it's Boehner who's come up with the few billion more, not the Democrats. All that remains is for the Democrats to cave in one last time and then sit back and watch the GOP continue to accuse them of not being "serious about deficits."

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