The Boehner and the Restless

09/18/2013 07:12 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The politico-media empire which writes the rules of the Washington "What Serious People Are Saying" game have apparently decided that the government shutdown is now melodramatically going to happen. Cue ominous organ music blast (dum dum DUM!). The key word in that opening sentence is "melodramatically," because our government can now be seen as nothing more than a continuing soap opera. Call it As the Boehner Turns, or perhaps more appropriately The Boehner and the Restless.

Personally, I don't buy it. I'm taking the contrarian position on this one. John Boehner just announced that the House will vote on a continuing resolution (to continue funding the government past the first of October) which attempts to "defund" Obamacare, and that the vote will happen this Friday. Across Washington, in newsrooms everywhere, pearls were clutched and editors swooned (and had to be revived with smelling salts). The sky is falling! The shutdown will happen! Oh, my goodness! What a calamity! The melodrama was turned up to eleven, and the knob was then snapped off. The car was about to careen off the cliff (right before the commercial break), so stay tuned, folks...

But, as I said, I don't buy it. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the timing of the vote increases the chances that the government shutdown will not in fact happen. The vote, I suspect, is nothing more than John Boehner showboating within his own caucus -- nothing more than a sop to the rabid Tea Party members who are demanding this showdown. The reason I reach this conclusion is that if Boehner were truly serious about using this bill as his only negotiating position, he would have waited until the last minute to introduce it. Instead, he's going to hold a vote this Friday.

There are three basic endgames which are possible in the showdown. The first is that Senate Democrats and President Obama wake up one morning and, in astonishment, blurt out, "What were we thinking? Obamacare sucks! Let's repeal the signature legislation of Barack Obama's term in office!" They then leap out of bed, pass the House's bill and sign it into law. Obamacare is dead! Well, this isn't really true, since the House "defunding" Obamacare doesn't actually defund something like 80 percent of Obamacare, but whatever. The chances of this scenario happening are precisely zero, so it's a moot point.

The second endgame is that the House Republicans refuse to budge, the Senate and the House can't agree on a continuing resolution, and the government shuts down at the start of next month. This is what the media is salivating over, with full soundtrack and all the melodrama they can heap upon it. What a great start to the fall season for the soap opera that is Washington! The chances of this happening are unknown, but I predict that they are one whale of a lot smaller than the media would have you currently believe. And, as I said, holding the vote this Friday means the chances of a shutdown actually happening have just grown even smaller. If Boehner really wanted this scenario to happen (he's publicly said he does not, for the record), then he would use the clock to his advantage and delay the vote on the Tea Party bill until, perhaps, next Friday -- giving the Senate almost no time to react. But he's not taking this route, which is the main point everyone seems to be missing (or willfully ignoring, to boost ratings for the soap opera).

The third scenario is the most likely. John Boehner, following a script he has used in the past, allows the Tea Party to pillage and riot for a very precise amount of time. He allows their "take no prisoners" bill to be voted on. There is no guarantee that it'll even pass -- another fact many media types are ignoring today. Boehner has had to ignobly yank quite a few bills from the floor before the vote because he simply cannot round up enough votes within his own party to pass them. This could happen with Friday's bill, although it is more likely that Boehner will allow the vote even if he knows it will fail (because doing so will strengthen his position).

But say for the sake of conversation that it does pass. The Tea Party will triumphantly proclaim victory, and the Senate will quickly dispose of the bill in one fashion or another -- leaving us right back at square one. The Senate leaders will then meet with the White House and come up with a budget bill which is acceptable to sane Republicans in the Senate, but which does not touch Obamacare's funding. The Senate will pass this bill, and send it over to the House (technically the House has to originate spending bills, but this can be dealt with by a gimmick, as it always is). The ball will be back in Boehner's court.

Boehner has already cancelled vacation days scheduled for next week. The House will be in session. And it'll have enough time to act before the deadline is reached. Boehner will (again, he's done this before, folks) reluctantly tell his Tea Party members "well, we tried our hardest, but it didn't work." And then -- at the last minute, no doubt -- he'll put the Senate bill on the House floor for a vote, breaking the Republican "Hastert Rule" once again. Virtually all the Democrats will vote for it, and at least a few dozen Republicans will join them (those in such safe districts that they don't worry about Tea Party primary challenges, for the most part). The bill will pass. A few minor concessions may be wrung from the budget itself, as a sort of consolation prize for House Republicans ("See? We did get some sort of victory!"), and this tweaked bill will go back to the Senate for a vote. The Senate will pass it, and it will thus be placed upon Obama's desk for his signature. Obama, of course, will sign it.

The only real question in this scenario is how close we come to hitting the deadline. Maybe the government will temporarily "shut down" for a day or two as the last Senate vote happens, at worst. But some sort of budget will be in place, until the next time this budgetary plot device arises (which seems to be planned for December, just so we can all have a holiday special for the Washington soap opera).

Call me an optimist if you will, but this still seems the most-likely scenario. Boehner, by holding the big vote early, is signaling that there will be plenty of time to fix things at the last minute after he tosses the Tea Party their bone. The Tea Partiers will experience a few days of euphoria and then be consumed with white-hot rage when they don't ultimately get their way. Primary challenges will be threatened all around. Talk radio and the conservative echo chamber in the media will explode with angst and denunciation. But we will have a budget, and the government will not shut down.

Of course, being a soap opera, the next story arc in The Boehner and the Restless will be the stunning news (dum dum DUM!) that the effort to defund Obamacare is not dead... but has only been in a coma! It will wake up and live all over again in a few weeks, when Congress is tasked with raising the debt ceiling. It's such a melodramatic storyline, after all, that it's going to be recycled for the entire 2013-2014 season. So join us here at this channel in a few weeks because in case you missed it we're going to replay the whole thing all over again throughout October. Join us for our next episode, and be sure to buy all those fine products our sponsors advertise, in the meantime!

[Roll closing credits, with "Nadia's Theme" playing in the background, of course...]


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