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Not another budget apocalypse

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For some reason, this week seems to be the week where the press noticed that we’re coming up to another budget showdown (Jonathan Chait was on it earlier this month, and Stan Collender has been for some time now; I guess everyone is catching up). It’s a two-parter, basically; there’s the threat of a government shutdown if there’s no funding for government programs after the fiscal year ends, and sometime this fall the debt limit will have to be raised again.

Since everyone is going to talk about it — if not now, certainly after Congress returns from its August recess — it’s a good time to go over some budget showdown basics. Here are three key things to remember in the lead-up to deadlines:

• Everyone bluffs. Everyone should bluff; it’s irresponsible not to try to use the leverage available to get the best deal possible. Granted, there are some asks that are so ludicrous that there’s no real point in bothering to talk about them. Still, the point is that everyone is going to pretend that he’s ready to go over whatever cliff is coming — right until the point that a deal is struck. One can argue that it’s irresponsible to go to the brink of default, and I might agree with that — but there’s nothing really wrong with attempting to squeeze what one can out of the bill funding the government for the next year.

• At the end of the day, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama will agree on a funding bill to keep the government running and a debt-limit increase. Now, that “end of the day” may come after a government shutdown or even a default. I’m not saying they’ll avert disaster. But, at some point, bills will be passed that Obama will sign, which means that Boehner will at least tacitly support them — and so will at least a decent-sized group of House conservative Republicans. Also, both Boehner and Obama know that they’ll eventually have to agree, even if they don’t have to be the ones to reach the agreement. Why does it matter? Because it’s not similar to guns or immigration, in which Boehner has the option of never cutting a deal. That can’t happen here, and Boehner knows it.

• The key people to watch are the ones who have to support the eventual deal. Corollary: The people to pay the least attention to are the hard-core rejectionist Republicans, the ones who almost certainly won’t vote for any possible funding bill that President Obama would sign. But the deal doesn’t get done with just the handful of moderate Republicans; it doesn’t get done unless John Boehner, again, is willing to give it at least tacit support, which means it has to be something that the bulk of the House Republican conference can live with, even if they’re not happy about it (and even if they don’t actually vote for it).

I think those the main things to keep in mind. There are others, for example, remember that all deadlines can be extended if necessary (and, of course, if both sides want more time rather than a showdown). But I think that’s a good start for navigating the stories about the budget that you’re going to be reading about.