Maybe it’s my 20 years as a labor lawyer, having gone through dozen and dozens of collective bargaining negotiating sessions, but I’m amazed at how little the press and activists on both sides understand what is going on.

A shutdown is like a contract end date, with the potential for a strike or lockout. The chief negotiator for the GOP is Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). It’s not who is in control on the other side. In order to get the best deal for his side, the chief negotiator has to convince both his own side and the other side that there is no more room to spare. So, first you let the clock run down toward midnight. The media hysteria helps Boehner in this regard. Then — and this is important — it can not come down to a single issue. A savvy negotiator needs two. Oh, and look — Boehner has two. He has the riders and he has the amount of cuts.

If the Democrats really can’t abide by the riders, they have to agree to more cuts. If they can’t go any higher on cuts, they need to fork over something on riders. This is rudimentary negotiation strategy.

It’s so simple even Joe Biden figured it out. A Republican staffer reminds me that in March Biden visited the Congress and said: “Well, yes. Look, here’s the point. The appropriators sat down. [Rep.Hal] Rogers’s and [Sen. Daniel] Inouye’s committee sat down and they started off with we’re working off of $73 billion. Now, I spoke to John [Boehner]. John makes it clear. It’s the same as our position. There is no deal until there’s a total deal, okay. So if we do not get the makeup of that $73 billion the way we want it, we may not even be prepared to go that high. If they don’t get the makeup of this, they may argue they’re not going to go — they’re going to go higher.” Yeah, it’s sort of intelligible, but he made the same point I am: The spending cuts and the riders are a series of trade-offs. The Dems don’t want to give in on any riders? Well, the price of the cuts just went up.

And sure enough (as I wrote this morning) Boehner is going to get his way today, passing a week extension and funding for the Defense Department through the end of FY 2011. No way that doesn’t get passed by the Senate and signed by the president. And in a few days (maybe less) there will be a deal on the rest. And rest assured, Boehner will have squeezed the Dems as hard as possible. You’ll know because he will get either more than $33 billion in cuts or something on the riders.