Friday, April 8, 2011

Shutdown Showdown Notes

Notes as the shutdown clock ticks...

1. I've seen some speculative posts that try to read the tea leaves to guess what's going on from the public statements Harry Reid, John Boehner, and the rest are making. I suspect that's fruitless. Good reporting from behind the scenes is certainly possible, but other than that I think it's pretty likely that we'll just have to wait until we know something.

2. I want to remind everyone that "shutdown" could mean anything from a 24 hour (or less!), over the weekend minor inconvenience to a three week (or more!) disaster such as the one in 1995-1996. In other words, we'll "know something" when we get a deal; a shutdown just means there's no deal tonight. Although talks breaking off probably means we won't get a deal until talks start (even though it's certainly possible that "talks breaking off" could be accompanied by, or even a cover for, further negotiations, so even that's not very definitive).

3. A lot of people were quoting the West Wing shutdown episode yesterday...what I've been thinking about is one of the dynamics in the Clinton/Newt confrontation. As David Maraniss and Michael Weisskopf tell it, Newt would meet with the House GOP conference and get all fired up for confronting the president...and then, once he got in the Oval Office, he would try to be reasonable and come out closer to a compromise deal -- only to then have to back off the deal when he took it back to the House. If what Harry Reid is saying is true, then Boehner may have fallen victim to the same thing.

4. However, going back to #1: everything said in public should be treated as spin, possible bluff, and positioning. That's how these things have to work.

5. I've said this every time a deal comes to the House floor this year, and I might as well say it again now before we have a deal: there's always a chance that a precarious bargain could collapse during the vote in the House. I'll add to that what Jon Kyl mentioned today: over on the Senate side, any single Senator at this point could force a delay until late next week, if he or she wants to (details: at least two unanimous consent requests should be needed to move either a very short term extension or the eventual deal immediately; a Senator might object to the deal but be willing to allow an interim short-term extension to go forward, but then that would have to get unanimous consent from everyone else, plus be able to get majorities in both chambers). I'm not predicting that a deal would either come undone or be delayed, just saying that it's certainly possible. In particular, it's not at all clear that very many House Democrats would be interested in voting for the deal as it looks to be, so Boehner may need most of his Republicans whether he demands that or not.

6. Everything in #5 will apply to the eventual bargain, whether it's in a few hours or a few weeks.

7. Compared to 1995-1996, and compared to what's likely to happen later this year, the substantive stakes right now are very, very low. It is not always clear, however, that the participants see it that way.


  1. I honestly can't see an upside for the Republicans in this and I can only see downside. What on earth are they doing?

  2. @phat: saving their asses from primary challengers, since they think their general elections are safe. At least, around 150 of them think that. A bunch of these TeaParty freshman think that the voters are with them back home, and they'll find out the opposite is true when the red tide recedes.

  3. I'm probably dead wrong here, but I fear a shutdown could be far lengthier and uglier than the "Its-down-to-Planned-Parenthood" meme would suggest.

    Obama is driving the Democratic train here, yes? If he and Reid disagree, Reid surely changes his mind. Whether the ACA, Libya, or any of a number of other events in his Administration, Obama has shown a preternatural ability to keep his powder dry. Considering what happened to the Republicans with the mid-90s shutdown, Obama has the motive, to go with the temperament, to wait.

    Boehner's got the problem of the bloodthirsty mobs in the Tea Party, who have shown a willingness to nuke otherwise solid GOPers who do not hew to their ideology. It wasn't long ago that this blog concluded that Boehner's best bet, given the braying of the Tea Party mobs, was to continue to obstruct and obfuscate...but in this exercise that's impossible, because eventually he has to sign off on a deficit-cutting number, and the odds are very high it will be too small for the Tea Party purists.

    So both sides have strong motivations to wait much longer than the climate would predict right now...(having written this it will probably be settled before I hit post!).


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