Will Obama walk away from the government shutdown with a smile? It's possible, but a cringe and headshake are just as likely. PHOTO: Reuters
With the government shutdown entering its second week, there is little progress in any kind of negotiations between the Democratic and Republican parties. Obama and Senate Democrats still refuse to touch Obamacare or to even really negotiate on what it would take to get the government up and running. Obama’s line has been that keeping the government running is a basic responsibility of the Congress, and they don’t get anything for doing that. The Republican Party has responded that they won’t fund the government without concessions from the Democrats. And so, we continue to be in a stalemate.
And yet, somehow, some way, the government shutdown must end. There is no definite way it will happen, but here are three ways the government shutdown could finally stop.
1. The Discharge Petition
John Boehner (R-Ohio) is the Speaker of the House, and that means that he decides which bills come up for a vote and which do not. There is, however, a potential workaround for business as usual at the House of Representatives: the discharge petition. If a majority of the House (218 out of 435 members) sign a petition to put a “clean Continuing Resolution (CR)” up for a vote, then it will come up for a vote against the wishes of Boehner. Despite Boehner’s claims to the contrary, there is evidence that a clean CR would pass: assuming every Democrat would vote for it, only 17 Republicans would need to join them, and over 20 have said publicly that they would vote for a clean CR.
The problem: There is a difference between voting for a bill that the current leader of the Republican Party put up for a vote and openly defying him to get that bill to the floor. While many more moderate Republicans are alarmed and angry at the Tea Party wing which is driving the no-compromise stance of the Republican Party, the Republican House members who would vote for a clean CR support Boehner, and want him to fend off any Tea Party challengers in 2014.
2. The Public Gets Angry At One Side
Republicans have been hurting in the polls over the government shutdown, and hopeful liberal groups have been floating the possibility that anger over the government shutdown could let the Democrats take back the House in 2014. If the Republican Party brand is taking on so much water that they need to stop the bleeding in any way possible, then Boehner could be forced to put the clean CR up for a vote.
The problem: Gerrymandering. And the fact that midterm elections, with their lower turnout, favor Republicans. Also, Boehner has so much invested in getting something from Democrats, that it would really take a lot of anger at him from moderates to put a clean CR up for a vote, and the American public is rarely that unified on anything. But back to gerrymandering: most Republican House members are carved into safe districts. Democrats actually got more House votes in 2012, but because of gerrymandering, Republicans have 32 more seats. It would take a serious Democratic surge to take back the House, and that’s possible, but not all that likely, and John Boehner knows it.
3. A Grand Bargain
Obama and Boehner have tried the grand bargain thing before (during previous manufactured crises). For a deal to make sense for both sides, it would have to involve 1) ending the government shutdown, 2) raising the debt ceiling, 3) ending the sequester cuts and 4) something for the Republicans to write home about, such as a repeal of the medical device tax in Obamacare or entitlement reform.
The problem: It’s basically impossible for Senate Democrats and Tea Party House members to agree on anything, so this deal would have to be over the protests of the Tea Party caucus. Also, grand bargains take time to hash out. Democrats don’t want to negotiate while the government is shutdown, and so Republicans would first have to pass a short-term clean CR, and even that might be a non-starter. Still, this path might ultimately be the most likely.