After the shutdown

On substance, and as a matter of policy, the “deal” Congress passed to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling does nothing. But it does stop the bleeding, provide a pause and pay back federal workers who went without pay for more than two weeks. Then what?

Lawmakers’ fix provides another fight in short order — in less than 90 days, government funding is set to run out again, and it’s unlikely the two parties will reach a budget accord less than 60 days from now, just before Christmas. The debt ceiling, which must be raised in order for the country to prevent defaulting on our debts, will need another lift in three months. What a relief!

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As GOP leaders capitulated, crushed under the weight of the internal divisions within their ranks, they swallowed their medicine quietly, without floor speeches or press conferences. Yet President Obama saw fit to come out and speak about the vote before the House had even voted. His purpose might have been to gloat, or maybe it was to appear presidential at the resolution of crisis, but the premature appearance made people guess, and it was wrong. At the very least, it might have sent some Republicans members to the “no” button who could have potentially supported the deal.

As we look ahead to the coming fiscal crises now marked on our calendars, there is no evidence — yet — that things have changed. Despite their bruising loss, Republicans will still face competing pressures that limit their ability to unite, let alone govern. At the shutdown’s conclusion it was clear the House GOP conference had hung together in its decision not to fire Speaker John Boehner — but not much else. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the Washington establishment for failing to listen to the American people, while conservative groups threatened Republican lawmakers until the bitter end by scoring votes for the deal. Read: a vote for the deal is a vote for a primary challenger. It was more than rich that Michael Needham, the president of the Heritage Action, went off talking points Wednesday to concede there’s no abolishing ObamaCare without a Republican president in office. Really? Then what were all of Heritage donors thinking throughout the shutdown, that it was a waste of time?

If Obama could find it in him to shock the nation and embrace structural reforms for Medicare and Social Security, come halfway on tax reform and negotiate frequently and fairly, enough Republicans would take the deal. They don’t want to fix entitlements while controlling all three branches of government and be left holding the bag for two decades afterward. Should the political will actually materialize, it will be up to Republicans to remind their Tea Party members that deficit reduction was their goal all along, and that defunding ObamaCare will have to wait until there are two-thirds majorities in each chamber to reach override a presidential veto. ObamaCare’s unpopularity could produce those numbers in future elections, but they don’t exist now, and it’s time for grassroots conservatives to accept it, even if Cruz and Jim DeMint won’t admit it.

Of course the Democrats’ victory of circumstance — otherwise known as the great GOP meltdown of 2013 — could simply be too tempting for Obama and his party. They might not be able to resist moaning about replacing sequestration without offering corresponding cuts while simultaneously pushing for new taxes. They might hope the Tea Party walks straight into another shutdown and then another, thinking they will be able to take the House back. But it’s unlikely that Boehner will allow it again. And after losing $24 billion on this shutdown, let’s hope not.


Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.