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ThePlumLIneGS whorunsgov plumline
Posted at 01:23 PM ET, 03/16/2011

Get ready: Government shutdown is coming

Set your government shutdown clock ahead three weeks — and know that this time, the odds are very high that it's going to happen.

As it turned out, after all but six Republicans voted for the previous two-week budget extension, about 50 more voted against the current three-week deal, while about 20 Democrats flipped against it. So, by a 271-158  margin, the government gets to stay open for three more weeks, at least assuming the Senate concurs.

Where does that leave us? 

 First of all, numerous members on both sides said this would be the last short-term extension. Of course, that doesn't mean they would vote against another one if it meant shutdown...but perhaps they would.

Second, House Speaker John Boehner did a solid job, again, of holding things together. Here's one note: Both this vote and (if I recall correctly) the one two weeks back were held as five minute votes. Perhaps I'm nuts, but I believe that was a really smart move. I continue to think that these votes have been very volatile, and a serious chance existed for a mass exodus, either from Democrats or Republicans or both, midway through. 

 Third, where do we go from here? I don't know. A slim majority of Democrats thought that this bill cut spending too much (at least I assume that's the case), even though the actual cuts were basically from President Obama's list. We have now used up that list. Meanwhile, 54 Republicans opposed it, mainly, as Brian Beutler reports, because it didn't contain any of the riders added to the rest-of-the-year spending bill in the House last month. 

Beutler frames this as a question of whether  Republicans in the House will try to go it alone, or whether they will find a bipartisan middle that he seems to believe is available. I’m not convinced there is any middle ground, at this point, that could win 218 votes in the House and 51 — let alone 60 — in the Senate. The problem isn’t the 54 House Republicans who voted against this extension; it’s another hundred or so who voted for funding two more weeks of implementing the Affordable Care Act, environmental regulations, and money for Planned Parenthood only because it was temporary. It’s also some unknown number of Democrats who were willing to vote for cuts that Obama endorsed — but no further cuts (and certainly not the policy riders). 

If you believe, as I do, that House Republicans have a weak hand going forward, then their best bet is going to be to eventually declare victory (after all, they’ve already enacted $10 billion in spending cuts) and move on. That’s the only winning move available to them. Can Boehner convince them to do that? I’d be very impressed if he can, especially without at least a short shutdown, first. But I don’t see it happening. I think we’re in for at least a short shutdown, and more likely a repeat of the 1995-1996 disaster — with Republicans re-learning the hard way the lesson that the unpopularity of the specific cuts they want to make is far more important politically than the popularity of general, unspecified cuts.

 In other words, we’re getting to the point where if Republicans don’t declare victory, they’re heading for a major defeat. I think John Boehner sees that — but I don’t think he has the votes. I put the odds of a shutdown now at over 80 percent.

By  |  01:23 PM ET, 03/16/2011

 
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