By last night, there was growing optimism about developments in Washington. Congressional Republicans, stunned by plummeting poll numbers, seemed quite motivated to find a way out of the crisis they'd initiated; Democrats felt confident that a resolution was near; investors were relieved the GOP seemed reluctant to destroy the economy on purpose; and for the first time in weeks, the relevant players were moving closer to, not further from, a resolution.
But a deal is not yet at hand.
President Obama and House Republicans failed to reach agreement on a six-week extension of the nation's borrowing authority during a meeting Thursday at the White House, but the two sides kept talking, and the offer from politically besieged Republicans was seen as an initial step toward ending the budget standoff.
In statements afterward that struck the most positive tone in weeks of acrimony, House Republicans described their hour-and-a-half-long meeting with Mr. Obama as "a useful and productive conversation," while the White House described "a good meeting," though "no specific determination was made" about the Republicans' offer. Both agreed to continue talks through the night.
Those talks have not yet produced a resolution, and it's not clear when or if they will.
The counters of what House Republicans have in mind is very much in line with what we discussed yesterday afternoon: GOP lawmakers are prepared to raise the debt ceiling for six weeks, during which time there would be bipartisan, bicameral negotiations on a larger budget framework.
As part of the Republican pitch, the government would remain shut down. For Democrats, this appears to be a non-starter -- as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said yesterday afternoon, "Not going to happen.... Open the government."
What's more, it's not at all clear what happens if there are bipartisan, bicameral budget talks, and they fail to produce an agreement that can pass both the House and Senate.
Complicating matters, many mainstream Senate Republicans appear to have no use for the plan presented by their House brethren, and are eyeing a bill to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling for three months, in exchange for a repeal of the medical device tax. That may be the kind of offer Democrats could tolerate -- it would at least end the shutdown as budget talks got underway -- though they continue to push for a much longer extension. GOP senators are scheduled to meet at the White House today.
The real trouble, not surprisingly, remains the House Republicans' rank-and-file members.
From the Washington Post's report:
...Boehner's offer to temporarily lift the debt limit but keep the government shuttered was engineered in part to satisfy far-right conservatives, who first suggested using the threat of a shutdown to strip funding for the law. Those conservatives have grown anxious in recent days as talk of making this stand singularly about the health law died off among many rank-and-file Republicans.
And from Roll Call:
[House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas)] gave an on-camera interview with CNN, where he acknowledged that whatever deal House Republicans and the GOP broker will also have to pass muster with the rank and file.
"We need their votes," Sessions said.
And this, in a nutshell, is why a general sense of relief is a little premature. These are the same House Republicans who thought the shutdown would be a good idea in the first place, and didn't hesitate to initiate a debt-ceiling crisis under the assumption that default wouldn't be a big deal.
These GOP lawmakers realize they're playing a losing hand, and that their self-inflicted wounds are getting worse, but many of them nevertheless seem prepared to balk at a deal that doesn't suit their fancy -- and they don't want to even give the appearance of having "backed down."
The crisis is closer to a resolution today than yesterday, but keep the champagne on ice.