Government Shutdown? Don't Count on It

Given the seemingly insurmountable divide between House Republicans and the Obama administration on the budget, Jamelle sees a government shutdown as inevitable when funding runs out on March 4. It’s not unrealistic to draw this conclusion when you consider that the radical budget containing $60 billion in cuts passed by House Republicans last week was already a compromise for the strident first-term Tea Party caucus, which wanted even larger cuts and says it is unwilling to compromise further.

But a government shutdown plays to the Democrats, and both sides know it. Last week, a Nancy Pelosi aide declared a shutdown “more likely than not” and began crafting the narrative of Republicans as the heartless stalwarts willing to lock the doors on important federal services for the sake of an argument while Democrats fight to maintain popular programs like Planned Parenthood and NPR. Paul Ryan and John Boehner countered by issuing firm statements over the weekend against a shutdown, aware of how damaging it would be for their party’s image. Blame for the 1995 government shutdown was pegged squarely on then-House Leader Newt Gingrich and was the deciding factor in the Republicans’ deep losses in the 1996 midterms.

Boehner may have a rebellious wing to challenge over a compromise in spending cuts, but to think he would let their demands tarnish the GOP’s popularity, re-election prospects, and the 2012 presidential race is to underestimate his skills as a political strategist. Boehner has said he won’t pass a bill that doesn’t cut spending, but Democrats have already shown they are willing to make some cuts, such as those offered in Obama’s budget. What’s more likely is that Boehner will draw enough support for a stop-gap bill with moderate spending cuts that can pass both the House and Senate, buying him more time to wrangle with the naïve freshman budget hawks in his party.