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First Thoughts: The end appears near

The end in this shutdown/debt-ceiling fight appears near (and we mean it this time)… Predicting the fallout… Can Boehner continue to lead?... The GOP’s lost year… What’s dysfunctional isn’t Washington -- it’s the House… And it’s Booker vs. Lonegan in New Jersey. Polls close at 8:00 pm ET.

*** The end appears near: With less than 24 hours before the nation reaches the Oct. 17 deadline to raise the debt ceiling, we’re back to the same place we were yesterday morning -- with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell working on a deal. Of course, what happened yesterday (between about 10:00 am ET and 6:00 pm ET) is the story that’s everyone is talking about and the reason why the focus is back on Reid and McConnell. House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team “failed in repeated, daylong attempts to bring their troops behind any bill that would reopen the government and extend the Treasury’s debt limit on terms significantly reduced from their original push against funding for the health care law,” the New York Times says. So we’ve essentially reset the PlayStation or Xbox or Wii to restart this again and see if we can get past Level 5. And there’s optimism that the Senate will get something done, and there’s also a sense that this entire debate is over. "We are making good progress," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., after he emerged from Reid's office Tuesday evening, per NBC’s Carrie Dann and Kasie Hunt. "It's basically done," a Democratic leadership aide said of the discussions. Then again, we’ve heard that before. But this time feels different. We’ve talked to one member of the Dem leadership who thinks things are moving so fast, all votes could be done before dinner time today. 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) returns to the Senate floor, declining to speak with reporters after a Senate Democratic caucus luncheon at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 15, 2013. Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

*** Predicting the fallout: If the Senate and then the House can pass this deal -- which would fund the government through Jan. 15, extend the debt limit until Feb. 7, and require the House and Senate to come up with a budget compromise by Dec. 13 -- the story will then turn to the fallout. One prediction is that you will see plenty of GOP infighting. Another prediction (shared by many) is that we could be right back to another fiscal standoff two or three months from now. However, the White House and its allies are counting on the GOP getting almost nothing out of this fight -- except for lower poll numbers -- as the reason why this fight MIGHT NOT get repeated. We’ll see.

*** Can Boehner continue to lead? Of course, just how does the House GOP play a role in these next round of negotiations? Right now, Boehner is a SINO -- Speaker in Name Only. Democrats don’t trust him and conservatives don’t trust him, either. Yesterday morning, Democrats were on the verge of humiliating Boehner (over the House GOP’s revised counteroffer), and it appeared Democrats might be overplaying their hand (they were THAT harsh against Boehner’s plan). But instead of the Democratic attacks helping Boehner to rally conservatives to his side, the exact opposite happened: House Republicans -- by demanding that the counteroffer become more conservative and then not providing the votes needed to pass it -- ended up humiliating him in a way Democrats might not have done. Boehner’s defenders, however, point to this Time piece to explain the difficulty he faces. “Stripped of earmarking grease, reluctant to rule by fiat, and with a conference that fears only its right flank, Boehner has long since realized he must be bloodied first before he can steer the country to safety. The process, ugly and messy and infuriating, ultimately works. The strategy of accommodation has repeatedly brought Congress to the brink of a dangerous deadline, but never truly over the cliff.”

*** The GOP’s lost year: No matter the fallout, this is pretty clear: Almost a year removed from the Obama-Romney presidential election, 2013 has been a lost year for the Republican Party. Has it improved upon its image problem? Nope. Has it fixed its shortcomings with women and minority voters? Nope. Is it in a stronger place than it was in Oct. 2012? No way. Perhaps more than anything else, the GOP remains blinded by the health-care law -- and by President Obama himself (who will never run for office again). Indeed, in some ways, you could see this entire shutdown/debt ceiling debate over the president’s health-care law as a replay of the House GOP’s impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998 -- a last-ditch fight against the term-limited incumbent. The good news for the Republican Party is that the Clinton impeachment is a reminder that its problems can be fixed. After all, the GOP won the White House just after Clinton’s impeachment.

*** Joe Lhota: It’s “unbecoming” to link me to my national party: But if you want to see the state of the GOP’s brand right now, look no further than what happened in last night’s New York mayoral debate. Responding to Democrat Bill DeBlasio linking him with the national GOP, Republican Joe Lhota said, per the New York Daily News, “Bill, there you go again. You start talking about me like some kind of national Republican… Don’t lump me in with people I am in constant disagreement with. . . . It’s unbecoming.” (It’s “unbecoming” to link him to his national party?) While many might respond, “What would you expect in liberal New York City?” here’s something to remember: The city hasn’t had a Democratic mayor since … David Dinkins. One way to measure the health of a political party is to see how it’s faring outside its natural base. But outside of Chris Christie, can anyone say that a Republican is faring well in blue areas?

*** A dysfunctional House: The last 24 hours on Capitol Hill also were a reminder of this important point: What is broken isn’t Washington but rather the House of Representatives. Yes, the Senate has its share of gridlock (see the filibuster), but we’ve seen plenty of examples of Senate Democrats and Republicans coming together to forge a compromise (immigration reform, the president’s executive appointments, or the deal that Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell are putting together now). As Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) said on “TODAY” this morning, she’s part of a “bipartisan group that’s trying to get a solution.” And yes, the Obama White House has had its share of mismanagement and other problems (like the Obamacare website), but it has proved multiple times that it’s willing to seek common ground (the extension of the Bush tax cuts in 2010, the debt ceiling deal in 2011, and the fiscal cliff deal in 2013). Yet the House is a completely different story. Over the past year, it has either been unable to get to 217/218 votes (see last night, the farm bill, Plan B during the fiscal cliff fight), or what it can pass with 217/218 votes is a complete non-starter with the Democratic-controlled Senate or Democratic-controlled White House.

*** The chief culprit? The Hastert Rule? And maybe the chief culprit of the House’s governing woes is the so-called “Hastert Rule” -- whereby any piece of legislation must have support from a majority of the majority. In this current fiscal fight, that rule prevented the House voting on a clean CR to end the government shutdown. (As we and others have pointed out, there were probably always 217 votes -- from most Democrats and a handful of Republicans -- to pass this.) But here’s the thing: We’ve seen John Boehner’s House violate this so-called rule multiple times, whether it was the ultimate fiscal-cliff deal, Hurricane Sandy relief, the Violence Against Women Act, and probably now. And as former House Speaker Denny Hastert recently acknowledged, “There really wasn’t a Hastert Rule.”

*** If it’s a Wednesday, someone is voting: Today, New Jersey voters head to the polls to decide the outcome of the special Senate contest between Democrat Cory Booker and Republican Steve Lonegan. Booker is the overwhelming favorite. Polls close at 8:00 pm ET.

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