Eight Things about the Shutdown/Default Crisis that Are Still True

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

As we approach default, it seems like every hour brings a new development in our crisis, and you'll be forgiven if you aren't able (or can't bear) to follow every new proposal, abortive vote, and angry denunciation. So it's a good time to remind ourselves of some things that were true yesterday and last week, and are still true today. These are the things we need to keep in mind as this horrid affair tumbles forward.

1. We all know how this ends.

We've almost forgotten this, but if John Boehner brought a bill to the House floor today funding the government and raising the debt ceiling without any idiotic anti-Obamacare provisions, it would pass, and the crisis would be over. I repeat: it would pass, and the crisis would be over. And yes, Tea Partiers would be mad at him. They might even try to stage a coup and install one of their own as Speaker. But they'd probably fail. And Boehner would not only be saving the country any more misery, he'd be saving his party from further self-destruction as well. But he won't do it. Why? I think Neil Irwin is probably right that the answer is sunk costs, the thing that keeps people throwing good money after bad: Boehner has come this far, and surrendering now would make all the desperate maneuvering of the last few weeks seem in vain. But sometimes, surrender is the smart move, or even the only move. What he doesn't yet seem to grasp is...

2. Nothing—repeat, nothing—that Tea Partiers in the House support will ever be acceptable to the Senate and the President.

Trying to come up with a plan the Tea Partiers can live with and the Democrats can also live with is fruitless. It will never, ever, ever happen. (I should note that this is a point Greg Sargent has made a number of times.) These people still think they can destroy Obamacare if they just hold on a while longer. Seriously. Therefore, the crisis only ends with a bill Tea Partiers don't support. The House can vote on that sooner, or later. It's up to Boehner.

3. John Boehner is terrible at his job.

Yes, he's in a very difficult situation, caught between what's good for his country and his party on one hand, and the insane demands of extremists on the other. But a more competent leader would have figured out a way to tame this caucus, through whatever combination of carrots, sticks, and gentle persuasion would do to the trick. Or he would have determined how to minimize the damage from their recklessness, even if it meant incurring some of their rage. He wouldn't be constantly bringing up proposals, then pulling them back after realizing he can't get the votes. You might say that no one could manage this particular Republican caucus. But here's a question: could any other Speaker have possibly handled this situation worse? For that matter, is there a single thing Boehner can point from his speakership so far and say, "I hit it out of the park on that one"? It's been nothing but a string of failures and bumbles.

4. The party that lost is still the one making all the demands.

When a party wins a presidential election, it will attempt to implement its agenda, and the opposition will do what it can to stop them. In this case, we have the remarkable spectacle of the party that lost believing it has a mandate to get the policy changes it wants. Democrats, on the other hand, are making no demands. They're only asking that the government reopen and the country not go into default, two things the Republicans claim they also want.

5. Both sides are not equally to blame.

No matter how many times TV reporters stand on streetcorners and get passersby to say, "They're all acting like children!" and "Both sides just need to compromise!" into the microphones, the fact remains that this crisis was caused by one party, is being sustained by one party, and will only end when that party wants it to.

6. The most conservative Republicans are not getting any more realistic.

They still believe they can use this crisis to destroy Obamacare. If the agreement that emerges only extends the debt limit for a few months, as it looks like it's going to, they're going to once again advocate using the threat of default to strike a blow at the socialist in the White House. Their latest request, the "Vitter Amendment," would have taken away the employer contribution to health insurance for congressional staffers. Why? Because screw you Obama, that's why, and I'm going to stick it to you by making the lives of my own employees more difficult. These people are not rational human beings.

7. Senate Republican "moderates" are not particularly moderate.

Now matter how many glowing profiles of Senator Susan Collins of Maine get written (see here or here), the "moderates" have spent much of this crisis saying reasonable-sounding things in public, then taking actual positions that are only a step or two away from what the conservatives advocate, not to mention voting against or even filibustering the clean solutions that could have ended the crisis long ago.

8. This crisis is the natural conclusion of everything Republicans have been doing for the last five years.

When Barack Obama got elected and had the gall to follow through on the things he campaigned on, a change came over the GOP. It wasn't just the wave of Tea Partiers who got elected in 2010, although that certainly accelerated the process. Eight months before that election, I wrote a column about how the party had realized that all the norms governing behavior in Washington, like the one saying you shouldn't filibuster literally everything, were just that, norms. And norms can be violated. (Actually, the roots of this change go back to the 2000 election, but that's a longer story.). One of those key norms was that when the debt ceiling comes up, the opposition party makes some speeches about the ruling party's profligate spending and some of them vote against raising it (as Barack Obama did in 2006), but everyone knows the bill raising it will pass, because not raising it would be insane.

But these days, when Republicans ask themselves "Why don't we do this?" the answer, "Because that would be insane" isn't good enough. And guess what: Even after they lose this battle, as they inevitably will, they won't change. This isn't the last time we'll have to go through this, or something like it.

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