The Washington Post

The White House doesn’t think it can prevent a government shutdown

This is a good catch by the Wall Street Journal's Damian Paletta.

Back in 2011, the White House's line was that it was simply unthinkable that Republicans would let the government shutdown or the debt ceiling collapse. They wouldn't even entertain the possibility. They pointed to Republican leaders's admission that the debt ceiling would need to be raised. They pointed to Congress's long history of raising the debt ceiling without much fuss. They brushed off questions asking whether things had changed. It was like they were attempting a Jedi mind trick.

"Republicans won't raise the debt ceiling unless you offer huge concessions!"

"Yes, they will."

"Okay, yes, they will!"

Paletta notes that the White House isn't trying that trick this time. If anything, they're trying to convince the world that Republicans really, seriously, might pull the trigger. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is using words like "nervous" and "anxious." David Plouffe is tweeting things like:


And there is a difference between 2011 and 2013. Two of them, in fact.

1) In 2011, the White House knew whom to deal with. Back then, House Speaker John Boehner actually did seem reasonably in sync with his party on these issues, and so the White House was able to negotiate with Republican leadership on a deal. Today, the relevant negotiations are happening in the Republican Party, with GOP leadership trying to fight conservatives who want to shut down the government, and no one knows who actually has the power to cut and close a deal.

2) In 2011, the White House was willing to deal. The White House believed, in its gut, that Republicans had been given a mandate in the 2010 elections to extract exactly the kind of concessions they were demanding. In addition, the White House believed President Obama would be a likelier bet for reelection if he could cut a "grand bargain" with the newly resurgent Republicans, taking their key issue away from them.

This year, it's the White House that won the last election, and so they see no popular legitimacy behind Republican demands. In addition, they are deeply, fervently committed to the proposition that they will never again negotiate around the debt ceiling, as that's a tactic history will judge them harshly for repeatedly enabling. So even if Boehner could cut a deal on the debt ceiling, the White House isn't open to negotiating.

All of which helps explain the White House's more alarmist communications strategy. In 2011, the White House was confident they could cut a deal with Republicans and, in some ways, eager to do so. That gave them a sense of control over the situation.

This year, they're not willing to cut a deal with the Republicans on the debt ceiling, and they're not sure the Republicans can cut a deal with themselves on funding the government, all of which means the White House doesn't have much control over this situation. That's why they're trying to worry business and Wall Street and other outside actors who could put pressure on the GOP.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
What can babies teach students?
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Play Videos
A fighter pilot helmet with 360 degrees of sky
Is fencing the answer to brain health?
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
How a hacker group came to Washington
The woman behind the Nats’ presidents ‘Star Wars’ makeover
How hackers can control your car from miles away
Play Videos
Philadelphia's real signature sandwich
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
Europe's migrant crisis, explained
Next Story
Dylan Matthews · September 18, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.