How the Crisis Ends

I know it may be a little hard to envision right now, but the crisis we're in at the moment is going to come to an end. The question is, how? It might be worthwhile to think through the major possibilities. I've added odds for each one, based on my best (and necessarily subjective) judgment.

1. President Obama caves.

He agrees to delay the Affordable Care Act for a year to restart the government and agrees to budget cuts and entitlement cuts beyond the sequester-level budget Democrats have already agreed to in order to raise the debt ceiling. Tea Partiers triumph.

Many congressional Republicans still think this is a possibility. They see Barack Obama as a weakling who will always crumble in the end. They also suffer from a common political delusion, that the American public agrees with you on both the substance of policy and the tactics you've chosen. So even with polls showing approval of the shutdown, their party, and the institution in which they serve plunging to the depths of Hades, they believe they're going to win and get everything they want. Odds: 3 flepzillion - 1

2. The crisis is settled with a "grand bargain."

In the ever-changing list of Republican demands, this one seems to be gaining momentum, particularly as attention starts to shift from the incredibly awful government shutdown to the possibility of a truly disastrous default. As near as anyone can tell, the "grand bargain" consists of Democrats giving Republicans a whole bunch of things off the GOP wish list, like steep cuts to Medicare and Social Security, along with other cuts to domestic spending and perhaps tax cuts as well. In exchange, Republicans would offer ... well, they'll offer nothing, other than the bright future that will result. Odds: 200 - 1

3. Boehner allows votes in exchange for a minor concession from the Democrats.

In this scenario, Democrats give Boehner something like a delay or elimination of the medical-device tax, so he can claim he got out with less than a total defeat, thereby (sort of) saving face. Tea Partiers still cry that it was a betrayal and cling to the certainty that if Republicans had just held out a little longer, they would have achieved total victory. No one steps up to challenge Boehner for speaker, because no one wants that godawful job. Odds: 2 - 1

4. Boehner makes peace with the fact that Republicans have lost and allows a vote on a clean CR and debt limit.

This outcome becomes more likely with each passing day, because every variable pushing in this direction is increasing in strength. It's becoming more clear to the public that the shutdown and coming default are the Republicans' doing. The consequences of the shutdown are becoming clearer. Their party's popularity is diminishing.1 1. Conservative writer John Podhoretz makes a very good point about this in a column today. This crisis is doing untold damage to the Republican Party's image, and Podhoretz says when he talks to conservatives, they say their allegiance isn't to the party but to conservatism. "But here's the conundrum: There is only one electoral vehicle for conservative ideas in the United States—the Republican Party." Even if they're right that the GOP is timid and compromised, the conservatives are destroying the only thing that can help them get their ideas enacted. "It may not have been a very good vehicle in the first place, and you may think it couldn't drive worse, but oh man, could it ever. And it's the only one you've got." The chances of Democrats taking the House in 2014 and holding the presidency in 2016 are increasing, making party leaders and donors very unsettled. The business community, which does not control the GOP but certainly exerts significant influence over it, is growing more and more nervous about the economic consequences of the crisis. Disunity within Republican ranks is growing. In sum, there is not a single factor that over time is making a GOP victory more likely. My guess is that Boehner knows this but is hoping that the fight itself will win him enough breathing space with the conservatives to keep his job when its over. He'll lose, but he'll show them that he was willing to inflict some harm on the country in the process, which will deplete their rage just enough. Odds: 1.5 - 1

There could, of course, be some other possibility I'm not thinking of. But that's how things are looking now. And yes, I made up the word "flepzillion."

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