August 30, 2013
Members of the House of Representativs leave the U.S. Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Members of the House leave the U.S. Capitol. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Are we headed to a government shutdown? A debt-limit breach that causes the government to default? Or will it be avoided?

I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. But after a few weeks of speculation, and with action ready to start again on it next week, perhaps it’s time to lay out the basics one more time.

On the “avoid a calamity” side: It’s pretty clear that everyone on the Republican side who remembers 1995-1996 thinks that it was a disaster for the GOP, and that this time would be pretty much the same. House Speaker John Boehner has found a way to navigate around each of the potential calamities that has popped up regularly since January 2011. Since it’s also pretty clear that Barack Obama doesn’t want a government shutdown, we have a situation in which neither side wants that outcome. Usually, that’s good enough.

On the other hand. . . .

1. Many Republicans remain opposed, on “principle,” to compromise in general and compromise with Obama in particular

2. Republicans in the House are so dysfunctional that they rarely can come up with 218 votes on their own for anything — immigration, farm bill and, now, a continuing resolution. That makes it difficult to get to the point where negotiations begin.

3. Republicans know they want a confrontation, but they still, after all this time, don’t have a reasonable “ask.” Some want to defund the Affordable Care Act; others want an unspecified amount of budget cuts. The former is far beyond the bargaining power they have; the latter, even if they had the leverage to get it, isn’t actually a demand good enough to begin negotiations around.

It’s worth keeping in mind that anything anyone says on the way to the deadline could well be positioning, bluff and spin. And, overall, I still think that the desire to avoid a disaster is probably more relevant than GOP dysfunction and aversion to cutting honest deals.