This 16-day shutdown may be over, but given the parameters of the legislative deal, Americans could find themselves in the midst of another one in three months.
The agreement that passed Congress on Wednesday extends spending through Jan. 15, and raises the debt limit through early February. But the hard-fought negotiations did little to soften the deep chasm between Democrats and Republicans on the question of government spending.
So will the nation be subjected to another shutdown? There’s a strong case as to why it won’t, but the prospect of another fiscal impasse remains a distinct possibility.
The case against another shutdown
Vice President Joe Biden put things aptly on Thursday as he greeted employees returning to work at the Environmental Protection Agency. "There's no guarantees of anything,” he said when asked whether he could reassure the public that there wouldn’t be another shutdown.
Indeed, the fundamentals in Washington will remain the same between now and January: Barack Obama will still be the president, Republicans will still control the House of Representatives and Democrats will remain the majority in the Senate.
(Due to a special election in New Jersey on Wednesday, Democrats will actually add a vote in the Senate, as Democrat Cory Booker replaces placeholder Sen. Jeff Chiesa, a Republican.)
But some Republicans are now speaking out against the hard-lined tactics favored by conservatives, which contributed to the shutdown.
“I would also like to point out that we learned a lesson last time – we forgot it,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said Thursday on MSNBC, referring to the hit the GOP took after the government shutdowns of the mid-1990s. “I am very confident that we won’t go through this exercise again, at these expiration dates that are coming up.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., more forcefully ruled out the possibility of a January shutdown in an interview with The Hill newspaper published on Thursday.
“I think we have fully now acquainted our new members with what a losing strategy that is,” he said of the prospects of another government closure.
On CNN late Wednesday, Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., said that more pragmatic members of the House GOP would “become much more vocal and not be taken for granted.”
"Newsflash, Democrats control the Senate. Newsflash, Democrats control the White House," he said. "Neither party is going to get everything they want. So the sooner that both parties recognize that the sooner we can work together we can advance the ball."
In short, a growing number of Republicans won’t want to re-fight the last few weeks’ battles after having fought the shutdown and debt limit battles to the bitter end. The GOP extracted virtually no concessions from Obama and have only dismal approval ratings to show for it.
It's tough to imagine Republicans suddenly gaining an advantage over Obama in the next few months that would allow them to score victories that eluded them this time around.
Moreover, leaders in both parties are now vowing a change in tone – though their proclamations ring somewhat hollow, given the numerous instances in the past year alone when Democrats and Republicans have vowed to set aside their differences.
One group that assure success in the coming months is the set of bipartisan budget negotiators who will now convene a formal “conference” process of sorting out the differences between Democratic and Republican spending plans. Those negotiators had breakfast Thursday, and, if their talks succeed, it would moot January’s deadline entirely.
“We want to look for ways to find common ground, to get a budget agreement,” said House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., after the meeting.
Ryan opposed the deal that reopened the government and extended the debt limit.
Why you should fear another shutdown
Republicans didn’t emerge from this fight feeling particularly great about what they’d achieved, and Obama’s words on Thursday accusing Republicans of damaging the economy by creating “manufactured crises” hardly eased his relationship with the GOP.
Congressional Republicans still deeply distrust the president and share few of his policy goals. Moreover, the GOP exists in constant fear of reprisal from its conservative wing, which is quick to accuse party leadership of apostasy at the first sign of concession to the president.
Many conservatives in Congress seemed emboldened to some extent by the fight of the past few weeks, even though they achieved few of their goals. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called the House GOP’s repeated efforts to repeal Obamacare an “incredible victory” for the conservative movement.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to hew to his caucus’s rightward flank also bought him some degree of credibility among conservatives who had threatened to depose him just this January, too. Following a meeting with Republican lawmakers on Wednesday, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., lauded Boehner for the “wonderful job” he’d done holding together Republicans throughout the crisis.
Armed with newfound cachet among conservative House Republicans, Boehner might have more leeway to drive a more strategic goal against Obama before the next shutdown deadline. That is, he could use the prospect of a shutdown as leverage again, but with a more attainable conservative goal as an outcome.
To that end, Democrats eagerly circulated comments by Louisiana Rep. John Fleming to the New York Times, where he described the January deadline as “round two” for Republicans.
“See, we’re going to start this all over again,” Fleming said.
First published October 17 2013, 1:10 PM