The latest rhetorical tool the President and his allies are using on John Boehner is telling him to put his money where his mouth is, specifically on the "clean" continuing resolution passed by the Senate. Boehner claims that if he allowed a clean CR to be voted on in the House, it would fail, so he must continue to demand a pound of flesh from the administration as the price of reopening the government. Barack Obama's response is, if that's true, then why not let it come up for a vote and see what happens? In recent days, a couple of news organizations have made counts of the Republican "moderates" (not all of whom are actually moderate) who have made public comments indicating they would support a clean CR. As of now, the Washington Post's tally has 21 Republicans in favor; combine them with the 200 Democrats, all of whom are likely to vote for the clean CR, and you've got a majority. But would these moderates actually follow through if it came to a vote?
As David Karol says in an excellent post on the topic of the moderates, "In general, Congressional moderates are more closely aligned to their parties than is understood. Often their defections from party ranks occur when it is clear that their party does not need their votes to prevail on a given issue." This is sometimes accomplished with a strategy that came to be known back when Tom DeLay was running things as "catch and release." The leadership makes sure it can win the vote, then slowly releases its moderates one at a time, allowing them to vote against the party so they can tout their independence but not threatening the outcome.
But that isn't the case here—there's a real question of which side would prevail. That means Republicans will be pressuring their moderates to stay in the fold. Karol also notes that even a Republican from a swing district could face a threat from a Tea Party challenger in a primary. Even if that challenger ends up losing the general election, if he beats you in the primary, you're still just as unemployed. So the question is whether the pressure on the moderates from within their party is greater or lesser than the pressure coming in the other direction.
Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of very nice people who won't be shutting anything down. (Flickr/Talk Radio News Service)
It's been noted many times that the conservative Republicans driving the shutdown/debt default crisis are insulated from political repercussions for their actions by the fact that they come from extremely conservative districts where they face little to no risk of getting beaten by a Democrat in a general election. The implicit argument is that safe seats equate to not just ideological extremism, but the kind of procedural extremism we're seeing now. Yet as Eric Boehlert observes, there are lots of Democrats who are just as safe as these Republicans—in fact, there are more Democrats with safe seats, and many of those seats are even safer than Republican safe seats. So why don't the extremely conservative Democrats engage in the same kind of gamesmanship the Tea Party Republicans do, threatening to burn the whole place down unless they get their way?
Don't worry--unlike what's going on in Washington now, this is only a drill. (Flickr/USAG-Humphreys)
The most important fact about the shutdown crisis, which is soon to become the shutdown/debt ceiling crisis, is that Democrats are not making any demands. The only thing they want is for the government to reopen and for the United States not to default. Since these are things Republicans also claim they want, they can't be considered demands. Republicans, on the other hand, have lots of demands, even if they keep changing. That's why the current Republican talking point—"Why won't the Democrats negotiate?"—is fundamentally misleading. One way for this whole thing to end is for Republicans to give up their demands and admit they've lost. Unsurprisingly, they're reluctant to do this. But what if Democrats started making a demand of their own?
When they went forward with their plan to shut down the government in order to undo, defund, or otherwise undermine the Affordable Care Act, conservatives convinced themselves that their plan was going to work because Americans hate Obamacare. If you look at it in an extremely narrow, context-free way, that's sort of true. If you just ask people whether they approve of the ACA, you get between 35 percent and 45 percent approval. But the closer you look, the more complicated it gets. Some people disapprove of it because they feel it didn't go far enough; add them with those who say they approve, and you'll get a majority. Furthermore, and most critical for what I'd like to discuss, the actual components of the law, like giving people subsidies to buy insurance, outlawing denials for pre-existing conditions, and so on, are all extremely popular (the one exception is the individual mandate).
One thing's for sure, though: You can't say that the ACA as an abstract entity is overwhelmingly popular. That has led a lot of liberals to blame Barack Obama for doing a bad job selling the law. I must have heard or read this from a hundred liberals over the last couple of years. If only he had sold it better! Then we wouldn't be in this mess. Sometimes, I've actually heard people say that he never really tried to sell it.
Let's face it, we all need a break from talking about this god-awful shutdown (acknowledging, of course, that the best break of all would be to end the damn thing). In that spirit, via Technology Review, here's an interesting study out of Georgia Tech about what kind of robots young and old people are more comfortable with, and how those preferences change depending on what it is we're asking the robots to help us with. Generally, the older people preferred more human-looking robots, while the younger people preferred more, well, robot-looking robots. That would make sense if you assume that the young are more comfortable with technology. But things get interesting when you get into details about what the robots are doing: