A government shutdown’s turned out to be a peculiar sort of beast.
First, before a shutdown, every politician – in both parties – declares the government shutting will be terrible. Awful. Armageddon. And every politician swears they want the government to stay open.
Then the government shuts down.
Next one group of politicians proposes to reopen the government one agency at a time – and passes bills to fund half a dozen agencies. The other group of politicians declares it wants every one of those agencies open too.
Then refuses to vote to open even one of them.
Next both groups of politicians agree to pay every furloughed government employee every penny of their back pay when the shutdown ends – which turns furloughs into vacations with pay but doesn’t open a single government office and costs millions.
Now, how on earth, you might wonder, would a Democrat be all for opening government – but then vote against opening half a dozen parts of government?
Or how on earth can a Republican vote for furloughing people and paying them not to work – instead of simply paying them to go on working?
It turns out the President, the Senate, and the House work like a three way firing squad. Not one of them can spend a penny the other two don’t agree to. Now, fortunately for the elderly, long ago another Congress agreed to pay Social Security benefits. But, legally and constitutionally, the President and the Senate can’t fund their heart’s desire (Obamacare) as long as the House says, No Way.
Which leaves the Democrats with three choices: Bribery. A swap. Or coercion.
The President ruled out a swap declaring, I won’t negotiate. Period.
Bribery’s out because any Republican Congressmen taking a bribe (say an earmark) to pass Obamacare wouldn’t have to worry about winning the General Election – because he’d never make it out of the primary.
Which leaves coercion and, say what you want about Obama, you have to admit for all his suaveness and soft-spoken words the President’s a warrior of the first order. He didn’t come from behind and whip Mitt Romney by being Caspar Milquetoast. Plus, he’s endowed with a true believer’s faith. And a riverboat gambler’s nerve.
So, when the Republican House offered him everything he wanted except Obamacare, he figured, To heck with it – I’ll double down and bet the pot to win it all.
And, just like in a poker game, that left the Republicans with two choices: Fold their cards or take a big gamble too.
The prospect of calling Obama (and betting the house) made the Pachyderms plenty nervous – a lot of them figured the safe move was time to walk away from the table. In the end they made their bet but, right away, so as not to offend Independent voters, they immediately set about reopening as much of the government as they could – everything from national monuments to cancer research.
That made life complex for President Obama and the Democrats. Who wanted voters mad at Republicans. To do that, the shutdown had to hurt. So reopening parts of government didn’t fit into their plans. So they refused to even fund cancer research.
So how does all this end? Does Obama blink? Or the Republicans?
Here the President has one big advantage. He’s never going to run for office again. He’s done. But in two years a lot of Republican Congressmen are going to be up for reelection. And more than a few of them have a nervous eye peeled toward next November.