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First Thoughts: Boehner's bluff?

Back to talk of a government shutdown, but is it real or does Boehner blink? … If GOP had any hope of blaming Obama and Democrats for a shutdown, the Corker-Cruz spat on the Senate floor didn’t help its cause … Let’s remember how we got here – Republicans blocked going to budget conference and chose to use these deadlines to try and extract compromise instead … Here come the “glitches and bumps” on health care with small-business, Spanish-language site delays … Wendy Davis is in in Texas. But a reality check on her candidacy – this is still Texas in a midterm year. How does she become more than a one-issue candidate? … The UN-Syria deal – the best the White House could have gotten?

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*** Boehner’s bluff? We wrote yesterday that a shutdown appeared less likely Oct. 1, but that a path wasn’t clear. Well, this morning, that path is opaque. There is a lot of talk of a shutdown – again -- after House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday he does not see the House passing a “clean” continuing resolution to keep the government running. "I do not see that happening," he told reporters after a meeting with the GOP conference. But is Boehner’s bluster a bluff to show toughness while the Senate finishes up its work on the CR or is he really locked in? Does he (or his conference) blink on shutdown and move on to debt ceiling once the Senate sends a clean CR back to them? The Senate votes today on it beginning at 12:30 pm ET and it’s expected to pass. Asked whether there was any chance of a clean CR passing -- even a very temporary one -- a GOP leadership aide told First Read, “There are some scenarios that could involve that, but it doesn't seem likely.” If Boehner and the House follows through and sends back a CR with non-germane attachments, asked what that would mean, a Senate Democratic aide said, “Probably a shutdown.”

*** Where we are: Twenty-four hours ago, it looked like Congress was headed toward a temporary resolution. Today, things look bleaker, and it puts Boehner in his box. Right now, the government is one step closer to a shutdown, thanks, in part, to Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX). Any hope Republicans had to at least share the blame with President Obama and Democrats was pretty much wiped away when Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Cruz had a fight on the Senate floor. There has been talk that Boehner has appeared to be trying to move conservatives to focus on the debt ceiling. And they are going to proceed with that, but they haven’t gotten off of the shutdown talk yet. And yesterday Boehner tried to show some vigor in when talking about Obama. But it is also important to note that Boehner hasn’t passed judgment on what Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is doing. We’re all, of course, going to be focused on what’s been SAID, but sometimes we need to also focus on what HASN’T been said. Boehner is keeping every option open to him. The odd thing about this shutdown is it is pretty clear the leaders don’t want it, but they have to figure out what the path is. Boehner can easily avert the shutdown, but would have to sacrifice maybe 50 Republican votes to do it, and he’s not necessarily willing to do that yet. By the way, speaking of Cruz… what was his talkathon really all about the other day? What are his future plans? Tune in… this Sunday, Cruz will be David Gregory’s guest on NBC’s Meet the Press.

*** How we got here: Let’s alsonot forget how we got to this point of budget brinkmanship. House Republicans hammered Senate Democrats (rightly so) for not passing a budget in four years. So, Democrats earlier this year, feeling pressured during the last debt-ceiling fight, passed a budget. But Republicans blocked going to conference to negotiate a budget. Now, the two parties are SO FAR APART on economic ideology, there’s no telling if a joint budget would have actually passed. And it’s an open secret in Washington that very little gets done without a deadline, but this isn’t the way the system is supposed to work. In fact, this highlight how the system doesn’t work. It creates uncertainty, enables inertia, and destroys trust in American institutions.

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*** Where’s the outrage about this? By the way, not only do these constant deadlines create uncertainty and distrust among Americans, they also cost the government money. The fact of the matter is whatever happens Tuesday -- either a shutdown or temporary CR, there’s one thing that is universally true: it’s going to cost the country more money to operate this way, not less, as one of us reported on NBC Nightly News last night. Ironically, these fights are taking place to supposedly save the country money, and they’re not -- it’s costing more to go through this mess. If Congress would actually enact a budget good for a year, then it gives certainty to agencies for things like planning, buying in bulk, etc. Instead, what you have now, is agencies planning – not how to do their jobs better, but what to do in case of a shutdown. It’s like they need a FEMA for Congress. Paging Craig Fugate…

*** Here come the “glitches and bumps”: The Obama administration and the president himself have warned of forthcoming “glitches and bumps” to enrollment, and with just four days to go until the uninsured and small businesses WERE set to sign up, the administration said Thursday the websites would not be ready for businesses with 50 or fewer employees until Nov. 1 and its Spanish-language service would not be ready until “sometime in October.” AP notes that Latinos “make up about one-third of the 47 million uninsured in the country.” Right now the glitches and bumps will be fine, the problem is when there’s a price tag or a face to bump. Right now still a rollout stuff, what’s worse – delay or not working, admin made

*** What’s in a name? A lot…: Despite President Obama embracing the term Obamacare, and even touting Thursday that when Republicans realize it is a good thing in a few years, they’ll no longer call it “Obamacare,” The Grio’s Perry Bacon, an msnbc contributor, traveled to Kentucky and Georgia and found that those implementing the law and trying to get people to sign up for exchanges aren’t calling it “Obamacare.” And there’s perhaps good reason for that. A Hart/McInturff poll for CNBC found that when people were asked their feelings about the Affordable Care Act, 37% had negative feelings (22% positive). But when respondents were asked how they feel about “Obamacare,” they found a spike in negative feelings, especially strongly negative feelings – 46% negative, 29% positive. It questions the White House's wisdom in trying to embrace the term. The problem is this is the time when they want to depoliticize health care and here’s the proof why they’d be in a better position if it wasn't so closely associated with the president.

*** Wendy Davis is in – a reality check on her candidacy: Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) -- who’s filibuster on abortion garnered national attention and delayed (but ultimately didn’t impact) passage of an anti-abortion rights bill in Texas – is running for governor. Her filibuster got her lots of money and lots of grassroots support. Democrats are fired up about her candidacy and believe this already majority-minority state could go blue. But here’s a reality check: This is still Texas, and it’s Texas in a midterm year. There aren’t many Texas Democrats, who would have suggested the best thing to happen is to nationalize a Texas governor’s race -- on SOCIAL issues. Her challenge is going to be: how does she not get defined by one issue. Republicans would more than welcome a one-issue candidate in this race. She will need to branch out and be able to sell herself as a potential governor on a number of issues important to Texans. But she will raise a ton of money and excite base – and those are not small things. She will have the troops and the enthusiasm. The trick isn’t just whether she can get anything more than 45 percent, but also is there a path to 50 here. That path to 50 begins by not getting boxed in as a one-issue candidate.

*** UN Syria deal… with no military enforcement: The U.S. and the other members of the UN Security Council agreed on a Syrian arms deal, something the New York Times calls a “milestone after years of inertia.” The deal doesn’t include military enforcement. If Syria breaks any terms of the agreement, they have to go back to the permanent Security Council members and Russia and China still hold veto power. But, that said, with this UN, this is probably the best deal the White House could have hoped for, considering where Russia and China started. By the way, this came after Secretary of State John Kerry met in New York with the Iranian foreign minister. That’s the first time an American secretary of state has met with his Iranian counterpart since the 1970s before the Islamic Revolution.

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