A Shutdown Edges Closer


It looks like President Obama has taken another big step toward a government shutdown, sending House Speaker John Boehner out of today’s budget summit meeting without a deal.

“While there was a good discussion, no agreement was reached,” says the press release from Boehner’s office.   It goes on to relate that Boehner told Obama “the House will not be put in a box and forced to choose between two options that are bad for the country,” those options being a “a bad deal that fails to make real spending cuts, or accepting a government shutdown due to Senate inaction.”  It looks like the President found something inside that box he likes.

Supposedly there are no further discussions or votes on the budget scheduled before the current Continuing Resolution runs out on Friday night.  Of course, schedules can be changed, so this is still a game of brinksmanship, not an uncontrollable plunge into a shutdown.

Part of that game involves both sides trying to guess where public blame for a “shutdown” will go, and exactly how upset they’re likely to be.  A lack of public anger would be bad news for the party of Big Government.  The trick for Democrats is making sure everyone is primed for panic and outrage, without leading them to ask inconvenient questions about who is pulling the plug.  They certainly don’t want the public asking who was responsible for writing the budget last year.

There’s a good deal of energy behind the Republicans right now, especially after the big “Path to Prosperity” rollout.  (Nice timing on that, Congressman Ryan!)  It’s pretty obvious to even the most disengaged voter that one side in this conflict has a plan, while the other side has slogans.  Public attention does tend to wax and wane, but the intense, carefully-rehearsed Democrat response to Ryan’s budget plan guarantees that it’s going to be getting plenty of attention for the next few days.  Casual news consumers don’t have to know a lot of the details about the plan, or have a firm opinion about it, to digest the data point that there is one… and that’s a lot more than the Democrats can say.

I wouldn’t be too sanguine about the public looking to a President with rock-bottom approval ratings to find out who they should blame, or just how upset they should be.  If this is a game of brinksmanship, the Republican leadership is playing it very well.  The GOP gets into a lot of trouble when it expects the public to carefully tally up a scorecard of fine points, and award it a technical victory.  They do much better when they line up knockout blows.