Unless you inhabit a partisan make-believe land, you probably have figured out that our budgetary standoff does not end with one side entirely capitulating. So if you favor re-opening the government sooner rather than later and avoiding a debt-ceiling meltdown, you should be rooting for the most inflexible players to weaken and their hard-line positions to be widely criticized. The news is that this is happening. Here are five reasons for optimism:
1. The president’s economic adviser Gene Sperling suggested a short- term debt extension that allows the parties time to sit down to negotiate on spending, tax reform and other matters. This suggests the “no negotiations” mantra is not being well-received by voters. House speaker John Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel told me, “If the White House is open to a short-term debt-limit increase with accompanying spending cuts and reforms, that is a positive sign.” Well, Sperling didn’t go that far.
2. The president’s handling of the continuing resolution fight is in negative territory (45 percent approve while 51 percent do not, but The Post reports, “Republicans in Congress are worse off still. A Post-ABC poll last week found 63 percent disapproving of Republicans, a number that has grown to 70 percent in the past week. Strong disapproval has grown from 42 to 51 percent over the same period.” That may weaken the grip of the shutdown squad, which insists the GOP is “winning.” As additional polling comes in to show how specific races and incumbents are faring, there may be even more reason to get serious.
3. While the president may take heat for not negotiating, the White House is daring Boehner to bring a clean CR to the floor, highlighting GOP House moderates’ frustration with shutdown advocates. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) on Monday told CNN’s Wolf Blizter, “What they did – what he did essentially, Sen. Cruz, basically, he took us all – he took a lot of folks into the ditch. Now that we’re in the ditch, you can’t get out of the ditch, the senator has no plan to get out of the ditch, those who do have plan to get out of the ditch and will vote to get out of the ditch, will then be criticized by those put in the ditch in the first place.”
4. As we get closer and closer to the debt-ceiling deadline, markets, donors, voters and moderate lawmakers will make it increasingly difficult for the two sides to do nothing.
5. The software problems that are crippling the exchanges give both sides a way to sit down to discuss the unfairness of forcing individuals to sign up with a system they can’t access.
None of this is to suggest either side will cave momentarily. But as it becomes apparent that nobody is really benefiting from the chaos and a default is intolerable, a graceful way can be found to get everyone at the table to hash out these issues. And of course Americans could always bombard their representatives with calls and letters complaining that they need to get the government running and avoid economic catastrophe.