On the Looming Government Shutdown

So, it’s likely to happen. Sometime later today, the United States federal government will shut down.

Even though the Democrats and the Republicans are within a few billion dollars of spending on the 2011 budget, the real issue for Republicans isn’t the overall spending but specific funding for Planned Parenthood and environmental regulations. Democrats want a budgetary document, Republicans wants a policy document, and this makes negotiating a budget tricky.

More to the point, one of the negotiators simply can’t negotiate; from his behavior, it appears that Speaker of the House John Boehner lacks the authority of his caucus to do so. Not only does the Republican base not want negotiation, but Boehner has boxed himself with his insistance any budget bill must pass with at least 218 Republican votes (in other words, the bill could pass the House with only Republican votes) and his assertion that there’s no difference of opinion between himself and the Tea Party, which give him very little room to maneuver at the negotiating table.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has his final offer on the table — drop the Planned Parenthood defunding and a shutdown will be avoided.

Will the Republicans take the offer?

I doubt it.

The Republicans don’t like to compromise, as the last two years have demonstrated. A fight is better for riling up the base, and a fight is better for making them appear that they’re serious about governing.

But more to the point, it’s not in their best interest for 2012.

Mitch McConnell said that the Republicans’ only priority was to make sure that Obama was a one-term President. The easiest way to make that happen is to tank the economy. And as much as Republicans like to say that government spending is the problem causing the stalled out economy, a lot of Republicans understand that suddenly turning off the spigot of government money is going to have negative economic repercussions. If even a short shutdown can help tip the economy back over to recession, or at the very least put the brakes back on a slow recovery, that makes the hard climb to unseating Obama in 2012 a little easier.

The only problem with that analysis, though? I don’t think John Boehner is that smart. His only real motivation is to make sure he’s not the first Speaker of the House in history to be deposed by his own caucus. Boehner’s mistake was that he thought he could control his caucus. What he didn’t realize is that the Tea Party has an ideology unto themselves, and the Republican caucus in the House is closer to a coalition of two minority parties — a business-oriented moderate-conservative party and a rabidly libertarian party — than a single unified caucus.

But there’s someone on the Republican side who does understand. Sinking the economy — or encouraging it to take on water — is in their party’s best interests. It’s not in the best interests of the country. It’s not in the best interests of the world. It’s sure as hell not in the best interests of the constituents they purport to represent. If breaking all the china brings them back into power, the Republican Party will do it, without question.

This isn’t to say that the Republicans in the House are unserious about their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and the Environmental Protection Agency. But they may well garner (from their point of view) a genuine bonus for their intransigence, fighting a losing battle to win a longer war.

I hope that I’m wrong. I want to be wrong. John Boehner and the Republicans are playing with fire, and I hope they will realize that a lot of people will be burned for no good reason at all on the pyre ignited by their ideological positions.

Here’s the thing, though.

As frought as these negotiations are, they will pale in comparison to the next budget fight. No, not over Paul Ryan’s inhumanly cruel budgetary roadmap, but over raising the debt ceiling this summer.

That fight won’t be pretty.

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