Here’s something Barack Obama can do right now to position himself well for the coming spin wars with the GOP over government spending: The president should challenge John Boehner (and Harry Reid) to immediately pass into law — right now — a backup plan to keep the government running, even if Congress fails to meet future budget deadlines. No shutdown, guaranteed.
Is it technically possible? Certainly. There’s nothing to keep Congress from passing an extension in advance for future expiring appropriations bills. Indeed, temporary extensions are a normal order of business for Congress, which rarely meets the fall deadline when the new fiscal year starts and the previous year’s spending bills expire. There’s no reason that Congress couldn’t approve such an extension, or some sort of triggered extension, in advance.
Is it likely that Boehner would agree to such a deal? Probably not. On the one hand, it’s pretty clear that Boehner personally has every incentive to avoid an actual shutdown. But on the other, it’s unlikely that he would be willing to take the threat off the table — or at least that he’d have support within the Republican conference to do so.
By contrast, Congressional Democrats would be likely to support such an idea. That’s because it would make it easier to preserve existing funding levels from year to year, and would deprive Republicans of leverage to extract further spending cuts.
Either way, it’s a winner for the president. If Boehner agrees, then the two parties can negotiate without the danger of an economy-threatening shutdown, and Obama will get some credit for changing the way Washington works. If Boehner refuses, then Obama can claim the moral high ground if and when a shutdown occurs.
People hate squabbling, and really don’t understand why politicians can’t just agree on stuff and get it done (they’re wrong about that, but it is what they believe). Barack Obama tapped into that sentiment in his original campaign. This is an easy way for him to recapture it.