Who Will Blink in Budget Showdown?

The House passed a continuing resolution last night that delays the implementation of Obamacare’s individual mandate for a year while funding the federal government’s operations through December.


The party line vote virtually assures a government shutdown at midnight on Monday.

The CR also contains a repeal of the medical device tax that most Democrats support. But Harry Reid has indicated it doesn’t matter, as the Senate will only consider a “clean” bill without any Obamacare riders.

The Washington Post reports:

“We will do everything we can to protect Americans against the harmful effects of Obamacare. This bill does that. We’re united in the House as Republicans,” Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said shortly after unveiling the plan to his rank and file. “Now it’s up to the Senate Democrats to answer.”

That response came quickly. Even before the House had a chance to vote on its proposal, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) blasted it as “pointless.” Democratic aides said the Senate would set aside the House amendments, probably first thing Monday, leaving GOP leaders with a stark choice: approve the simple funding bill the Senate has already passed or permit federal agencies to close.

“As I have said repeatedly, the Senate will reject any Republican attempt to force changes to the Affordable Care Act through a mandatory government funding bill,” Reid said in a written statement. “After weeks of futile political games from Republicans, we are still at square one.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney called the latest GOP strategy “reckless and irresponsible.”

“Any member of the Republican Party who votes for this bill is voting for a shutdown,” Carney said in a written statement.

As the House convened for the rare Saturday session, senior Republicans seemed to recognize the potential consequences of their actions. For now, Boehner’s decision to appease his right wing keeps an uneasy peace in his fractious caucus. But it bodes ill for his ability to work with Democrats to keep the government open, restore funding for federal agencies if a shutdown occurs or — in a few weeks — raise the federal debt limit to avoid a first-ever default on the national debt.

Leaders of both parties agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the economy and that a default would be potentially catastrophic. The maneuvering of House Republicans has caused considerable anxiety within their party.

“I think it’s going to be tough for them. They’re having such difficulty pulling things together,” said Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), one of several GOP senators who consults frequently with House members. “I don’t know that I have a clear vision how we move through this. And I think the debt ceiling is maybe even more murky.”


Whatever discretionary power the White House has over spending during a shutdown, you can be sure they will use it to put the hurt on the American people, hoping that stories of privation will play on voters’ fears that the shutdown will somehow injure them. They tried the same tactic when the sequester came to pass and it backfired when it became obvious they were gaming the process to make things look far worse than they actually were.

But a shutdown is different. Hundreds of thousands of federal workers are certain to be furloughed if the impasse continues for weeks rather than days. The military will continue to be paid thanks to a separate CR passed by the GOP that funds some Pentagon functions. But routine maintenance and deployments could be affected.

Ultimately, we are going to see a clear winner and a clear loser at the end of this. Someone is going to have to cave completely for the government to be funded. Obama knows he would be more than a lame duck if he gives in and delays Obamacare. He’d be a dead duck — an emasculated president whose own party would abandon him. Boehner probably realizes his days as speaker would be numbered if he advocates passing the CR without an Obamacare rider.

The irresistible force has met the immovable object — hence, the shutdown. With the stakes for yielding to the demands of the other side so high, it’s hard to see a quick or easy solution.


Both sides believe the other has underestimated their determination to get their way. Both sides believe the other will eventually come around and be forced to accede to their demands.

Senator Tom Coburn thinks he has a realistic scenario of how the debate will play out:

“The only time you shut down the government is when you shut it down and refuse to open it until you accomplish what you want. But we’ll fold like hotcakes,” Coburn told reporters. “You do not take a hostage you are not going to for sure shoot. And we will not for sure shoot this hostage.”

Coburn has been a fierce critic of the Cruz strategy, so you can take his prediction any way you wish. But he’s right in a tactical sense. Unless the GOP is willing to shut down the government for a very long time, inflicting pain on the American people and probably the economy, they will be pressured into folding after a few days.

And the hell of it is, the hard right wing in the House that has been pushing this futile strategy are not going to be blamed for the cave-in. It will be those who are deemed insufficiently supportive of a cause that never had a chance to succeed who will probably suffer the consequences.


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