Back in July last year, I was puzzled that no one seemed to be worried about the shutdown of US government that would inevitably follow a Republican victory in the House. Now with the shutdown due on March 4, I’m even more puzzled. It seems virtually certain that the shutdown will take place, and even more likely than before that it will be protracted. It’s true that there is a lot happening in the US, and the world, to distract our attention. But precisely for that reason, a shutdown of the government in Washington will be a much bigger deal than it was in 1995. Yet no one seems particularly worried, or even interested.
Compared to the situation in July, the big difference is the arrival of the Tea Party Republicans. One possible analysis is that, by demanding massively unsustainable cuts, they have shifted the Overton window, making it possible for Obama to give the Repug leadership the $30 billion or so in cuts they originally demanded and sell it as a compromise.
I see a couple of difficulties with this. First, there’s no guarantee that the Tea Party crowd will go along with the deal, rather than mounting an all-out attack on the RINO collaborators. So, the Repug leadership will find it hard to concede on things like Planned Parenthood, which will make it enough to round up enough Dem votes for capitulation.
Second, on the assumption that Obama has some interest in re-election, he’s presumably counting on the Repugs to fold as they did last time. All the background stuff from the White House I’ve seen suggests that this, finally, is where the eleven-dimensional chess master has his opponent trapped. Obama’s uncharacteristic support for the unions in Wisconsin seems like scene-setting for a much bigger fight in Washington.
If I had to predict an outcome, I’d go on track record and predict a capitulation by the Dems. But, in the circumstances, I can’t see this happening until the consequences of the shutdown become a lot more serious than closing the Smithsonian. And, while no one really knows, it’s intuitively obvious that a couple of months on emergency status will produce some pretty serious problems. So, I’m surprised this isn’t a bigger story.