The government missed its midnight deadline, so the “shutdown” is on.
The state of play: The Senate passed (for the second time) a “clean” continuing resolution (CR). “Clean” means it doesn’t attempt to change any policies, just fund the ongoing operation of the government at current levels.
That predictable and predicted 54-46 vote along straight party lines sent the ball back to the House. If the House were to pass that same CR, the shutdown would end. But Speaker John Boehner has sent no signal that he has any intention of recommending, or even allowing, such a vote.
Boehner invited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to negotiate over changes to Obamacare — perhaps even just the provisions of Obamacare that apply to the health insurance of members of Congress and their staffs — that could be added to a CR to avert the “shutdown.
Reid said no, the Senate would negotiate about such matters only after a CR had been adopted to avert the shutdown. That was it. Midnight came (actually 11 p.m. Minnesota time), the current continuing resolution expired and, with no new CR in place, bingo. “Shutdown.”
For those interested in the “blame game” portion of the politics going forward, Republicans will undoubtedly say that Reid’s unwillingness to even discuss small changes, changes wouldn’t affect any Americans other than members of Congress and their staffs, was the proximate cause of the shutdown.
If you want a more detailed tick tock of the steps leading to the final impasse, the Atlantic has a good one here.
As the National Journal put it: “Democrats are still saying they won’t pass any bill that cuts into Obamacare, and Republicans are still saying they won’t pass any bill that doesn’t.”
That however, is an oversimplification. There are Republicans in the House ready to vote for a clean CR.
If (and that’s the big if) Boehner allowed such a measure to come to a vote, most analysts think there are enough of those Repubs, combined with all House Dems, to pass the CR and end the shutdown, while allowing the Tea Party-ish wingers to vote no and continue to look for ways to express their determination to undo the health care law.
Democrats may say — and I believe there is substantial truth in this — that the proximate cause of the “shutdown” was that Boehner would not allow a bill, that likely had majority support in both houses, to come to a vote in the House.
A zillion polls are being taken, which generally suggest the public doesn’t approve of what Congress is doing, and blames everyone, but congressional Republicans most. The overall approval rating of 10 percent for Congress as a whole is the lowest ever recorded. By comparison, President Obama’s utterly mediocre approval ratings, which hover in the mid-40s, make him look almost beloved.
CNN’s pollster has devised a snotty new question, which asks who in this picture is behaving more like “spoiled children.” CNN’s writeup of the poll explains:
In a separate question, 49% of all people in the poll say that Obama is acting like a responsible adult in this budget battle, with 47% describing him as a spoiled child. While that’s nothing to brag about, it’s better than Congress.
According to the poll, 58% say congressional Democrats are acting like spoiled children, with that number rising to 69% for the GOP in Congress. Only one in four say congressional Republicans are acting like responsible adults.
I keep putting “shutdown” in quotes (I’ll stop now) as a reminder that that word is a pretty big overstatement for what the government is doing. Those who are deemed to be performing essential services will continue working and getting paid. This includes not only the obvious military and flight-controller type jobs, but a great many more, including the members of Congress and their staffs. Social Security checks will go out. Patients on Medicare can still see their doctors.
The rough estimate I have heard is that roughly 50 percent (probably a bit more) of the federal government continues, indefinitely, during the shutdown, leaving perhaps about 800,000 federal employees on furlough.
I don’t mean to minimize the size or impact of such a move, and that doesn’t include others whose jobs might be affected by the partial shutdown nor the millions who would be inconvenienced or worse by their inability to access federal agencies or services. But the ordinary world, something that is more than half open is not shut down. Maybe partially shut down.
Both sides are working on their spins. Republicans know that one problem for them, one reason they are getting blamed, is that they are perceived (with plenty of cause) as enemies of compromise. I saw Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia, trying to turn this perception on its head. Paraphrasing, here’s what he said:
There’s something we (Republicans) want, which is to do away with Obamacare and something they (Democrats) want, which is for it to proceed. We have offered three compromises. Repeal Obamacare. Defund Obamacare. Delay the implementation of Obamacare by a year. They have simply said no to all three compromises and have offered nothing except that they should get what they want, which is for the implementation and rollout of the health care law to proceed and for the government to continue operating at current levels. Price suggests it’s unreasonable to portray Republicans as the ones who are being intransigent or unreasonable.
I saw Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and a member of the Dem leadership explaining his party’s justification for its actions. Paraphrased, he said Obamacare is not but a proposal but a law, passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and upheld as (mostly) constitutional by the Supreme Court. The 2012 presidential election was, to some extent, a contest between a candidate (Mitt Romney) who wanted to repeal the law and Obama, who wanted proceed with the implementation of the law. Obama won. One faction of one party of one house of the Congress still wants to repeal the law, but lacks the votes to do so, except in that one house, and one house cannot by itself repeal a bill.
So it has decided to take hostage the budget process and refuse to allow a continuing resolution to fund the normal operation of the federal government unless the Senate and the president agree to stop the implementation of the law. He said this was like dealing with a bully, who threatens to punch you in the face unless you give him what he wants. If you give him what he wants, he will know that he can get whatever he wants by threatening to slug you. And, with the next big deadline faced by the government — the need to raise the debt ceiling — just weeks away, the bully will surely raise his demands even higher since the potential financial consequences facing the country if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling are more serious than a government shutdown, Schumer argues that it is vital for the Senate to just say no to the bully on this round.
Disintegration of process
Political scientist Kathryn Pearson, the University of Minnesota’s Congress expert, said the latest impasse is in some sense the latest meltdown in the continuation of a years-long disintegration of what is supposed to be the process by which Congress produces a budget. The budget procedures requires that each house first pass 12 bills, appropriating funds for each segment of federal spending. If the bills differ across houses (as they likely would), a conference committee seeks a compromise for each bill that both houses can pass. Continuing resolutions aren’t supposed to be the way budgeting occurs, CRs are supposed to be stopgap measures to prevent a shutdown if the normal procedure breaks down.
But on this cycle, Pearson said the two houses are so far apart on politics and policy that Congress made virtually no pretense of following the orderly rules. “Even if we had a continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown, that would be irresponsible” compared to the way it’s designed to work. Pearson told me.
But congressional leaders barely talked about following regular order. “It’s always been ‘what’s the continuing resolution going to look like?”