The government, as you may have heard, has shut down. But if you’re thinking that at least now things can’t possibly get any worse, you might want to think again.
Things can get worse. And, in fact, they probably will.
It’s my guess that the House crazies who brought you this shutdown are delighted with themselves. And why not? They are anti-government, anti-government-employees, anti-compromise, anti-GOP squishes, anti-Obamacare, and, mostly, anti-Obama.
In other words, for the suicide caucus — as Charles Krauthammer has named this Tea Party group — this is a dream come true. They have forced the government to its knees. That’s what they came to Washington to do. That’s what, incredibly, they’ve pulled off.
Republican leadership knows the shutdown is a disaster. But a group of maybe 80 zealots — out of 232 House Republicans — forced Speaker John Boehner’s hand and then dared the more moderate Republicans to buck them. Give the suicide team credit. They’ve learned the intra-party game. They’ve got overwhelmingly conservative districts, support from the talk radio caucus and the ever-present threat of primaries from the right for any Republican opposing them.
And so, they’ve won. For now.
If the shutdown is a disaster for the Republican brand — which it is — that’s not their problem.
If it’s bound to upset a struggling economy — which it almost certainly will — them’s the breaks.
And if it hurts many of the most vulnerable people in our society — as these things usually do — they can just take to their safety-net hammocks and ride it out.
There have been many government shutdowns, but what makes this one different is that shutdowns over government funding are nearly always about, yes, government funding. This one is not. This one is about a last-ditch effort to get rid of Obamacare — a program designed to help people afford to buy health insurance — even though everyone knew, going in, that the effort would be entirely futile.
It has been almost comical — if you like your comedy really, really dark — to watch the House throw up demand after demand to defund, delay and otherwise derail Obamacare, knowing that Barack Obama and the Senate Democrats would never accept any of the demands and knowing that the Obamacare exchanges would open today anyway. I guess it was an emergency. As Sen. Ted Cruz once put it, if Obamacare gets implemented, people will get hooked on it.
The expectation is that the shutdown won’t last long — because how could it? — but the funding bills are set to last only two months, and then we get to do this all over again. And before we even get to that crisis, we’re facing the far more dangerous Oct. 17 debt-ceiling deadline, in which the richest country in the world hurtles toward becoming the richest deadbeat country in the world, possibly taking the world’s economy along with it.
Don’t think that won’t happen. The shutdown happened over nothing. The default could happen the same way.
In fact, I’d say the odds now are greater than ever that there will be a default. Republicans are going to be forced to cave on the shutdown eventually. And that little humiliation will not sit well with the kamikaze boys.
The latest Republican plan, coming at the last minute — technically, it was past the last minute — was the idea to empower a conference to resolve the difference between the House Republicans and Senate Democrats. More dark comedy.
The problem is there is nothing to confer about. The budget, with the harmful sequestration still in place, is much closer to the Paul Ryan budget than to anything most Democrats want. The deficit — as we’ve mentioned before — dropped by $200 million last year and is expected to drop $400 million this year, cutting the deficit in half since 2009. Late last night, Democrats were pointing out that Republicans were refusing to accept their victory. This is a story — remember the Grand Bargain that wasn’t — that we’ve heard before.
And so, if the lone point of contention is Obamacare, Democrats have made clear they are not going to agree to any plan that would compromise the health care law. So, what’s there to confer about?
That’s where things get sketchy. The polls are pretty clear on this. People overwhelmingly oppose the shutdown. They overwhelmingly oppose defunding or delaying Obamacare if it means a shutdown. They will almost certainly blame Republicans for the shutdown. And in a CNN poll taken before the shutdown, Congress had a 10 percent approval rating, which puts our legislators in Alex Rodruiguez territory.
Those numbers figure to get only worse because Republicans — in putting forth a plan that political strategists will study, and ridicule, for years to come — have gotten themselves in a box. If House Republicans fold quickly, how are they going to explain why they forced a shutdown in the first place? And if there is nothing to be won, no compromise to be made, and the House keeps the shutdown going for days or even weeks, how do they then explain the inevitable surrender?
For the suicide caucus, the questions may not be so difficult to resolve. While everyone is left trying to explain the last crisis, they’ll just move on to the next one.
[ Image by Gage Skidmore via Flickr ]