So here’s what is likely going to happen with the government shutdown, regardless of today’s meeting at the White House: It’s going to continue for at least two weeks, until it gets lumped into the debt ceiling fight.
There’s really no way it gets resolved before then. There are a couple of reasons for this, and it requires a bit of a walkthrough for how we got here in the first place.
Understand that it was always John Boehner’s intention, and the intention of others in leadership, to extract concessions which traded rolling back sequestration cuts for an equal trade of some kind in Obamacare delays or alterations of aspects like the medical device tax, the Keystone pipeline, and other Republican aims.
This didn’t sell with the conservative caucus, because they don’t buy Boehner’s willingness to have a steel spine on these matters, nor do they trust anyone else in leadership to hold the line with “default” on the table. Given that, just as with sequestration, conservatives viewed shutdown as the better point of leverage, and the Ted Cruz-led defund push did its job: they won the argument with leadership, rejecting the debt ceiling/small ball strategy for a broader assault that slowly dialed back to delay of the individual mandate and rolling back special treatment of subsidies for Congressional members and staff, two populist issues that should’ve been the focus from the beginning.
Today, Boehner is in a bind. He cannot end the shutdown without getting something, or he will likely lose his speakership. Negotiations have been nonexistent, because Harry Reid has no real interest in negotiating. In fact, given the latest acts of he and his staff, it seems clear that if there is any negotiation to be had, it will have to be with the president himself. Reid has poisoned the well by leaking emails with Boehner’s staff, the sort of very personal clash which makes negotiation impossible. Reid’s trying to make nice noises now, but no one thinks Republicans can actually deal with him. What’s more important is the news that Obama is inviting Boehner to meet at the White House:
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on Wednesday offered to engage in wide-ranging budget and policy negotiations with House Republicans, marking the first formal overture from congressional Democrats since parts of the government shut down on Tuesday. Mr. Reid, in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio), didn’t offer policy concessions. But he said if House Republicans passed a simple short-term measure to reopen the government, Democrats would agree to begin broad negotiations on 2014 spending and other matters. The development came as President Barack Obama invited congressional leaders from both parties to the White House Wednesday afternoon to discuss the shutdown and looming debt-ceiling crisis.
Now, keep in mind the president has to this point shown no interest in coming to the table to negotiate, but most Republicans thought he would have to do so as the debt ceiling approaches. In the meantime, Republicans will be holding vote after vote – as they did last night, and will today – where they fund portions of the government and force Democrats to vote against it to frame an image of intransigence. If and when the moment of negotiation comes (and this meeting could be the beginning of it), Boehner will roll out his original strategy: trade sequester rollback for policy changes (which may not have anything to do with Obamacare). But conservatives have forced those policy changes to be on Obamacare primarily or little else, and it is unlikely the Congressional exemption rollback (which is a farce anyway – most offices will just fire one staffer, or not hire someone, and use the extra budget to make up the funding differences in salary, and many believe the OPM rule at fault will not stand up to legal challenge) will satisfy any of the conservatives.
So there are three big questions now: First, will Republicans feel any real pressure over the government shutdown, or will the Chicken Little talk turn out to matter very little, in the same way it did with sequestration? Second, will conservatives define their terms for victory, settling on what a policy win looks like short of defunding Obamacare – accepting that they won the tactical argument, will they settle on something that represents an acceptable policy shift short of their bigger asks, coming away from all this with something they can point to as a policy win? And third – and this is the most troublesome one: will Obama call the debt ceiling bluff – would he actually be willing to default and throw the markets into chaos, knowing the media will blame Republicans anyway, in defense of his signature on his namesake law?
Increasingly, I suspect the answers are: no, no, and yes.