Don’t forget what the shutdown is really about

September 30, 2013
Nice job, Congress. By which I mean, not a nice job. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)
Nice job, Congress. By which I mean, not a nice job. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

1) This is all about stopping a law that increases taxes on rich people and reduces subsidies to private insurers in Medicare in order to help low-income Americans buy health insurance. That's it. That's why the Republican Party might shut down the government and default on the debt.

2) The "continuing resolution" only funds the government for six weeks. So even if all goes well Monday night we'll be doing this again in November.

3) Republicans are now discussing a "one-week CR," which would mean we'd be doing this again in seven days -- and we'd be that much closer to the debt ceiling.

4) The leadership of the Republican Party agrees that the debt ceiling absolutely must be lifted. “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government," House Speaker John Boehner said. But they also maintain that they are willing to breach the debt limit, risking the full faith and credit of the federal government. As my colleague Greg Sargent has written in the Plum Line, this is a "glaring contradiction" at the heart of the GOP's position.

5) A few months ago, the conventional wisdom was that the negotiations over funding the government would hinge on how to replace sequestration, as the cuts are proving too deep for either Democratic or Republican appropriators. Instead, sequestration's cuts have been mostly left alone, and the argument has been entirely about Obamacare.

6) Boehner isn't really in control of his House conference, and he has no idea how to get out of this. Remember, Boehner's initial preference was to simply fund the government. His members forced him to accept Republican Sen. Ted Cruz's defunding plan. After the Senate rejected Cruz's plan, Boehner again wanted to simply fund the government. He lost again. As the National Review's Robert Costa reported, "For now, Boehner doesn't have a plan beyond passing this resolution and waiting to see what happens."

7) Democrats won more votes than Republicans in the last election. That was true in the presidential campaign. It was true in the Senate campaigns. And it was true in the House campaigns.

That doesn't mean the Republican Party is under any obligation to stand back and let Democrats do as they please. But imagine if the Republican Party had won the 2012 election and Senate Democrats threatened to breach the debt ceiling and cause a financial crisis unless Republicans added a public option to Obamacare. Does anyone think a President Mitt Romney would find that position reasonable? Does anyone think that position would be reasonable?

Update: A reader writes in:

There might be an even more instructive analogy.

In May 2007, 140 Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to defund the Iraq war. In September of the same year, Congress voted to increase the debt limit. Imagine if Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats had threatened to breach the debt ceiling unless Republicans agreed to defund the war. At that time, approval of the Iraq war was polled at 33% in favor and 64% against.

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Brad Plumer · September 30, 2013