In the United States, you can't walk into a casino and bet on political outcomes. But if you could, we know some people who would have advised you to put money on the government shutting down on Oct. 1 -- up until Friday, that is. Now, with stunning news that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is resigning, the entire game has changed.
The government is most likely not going to shut down this week, say our experts.
To be sure, Congress is still caught in a nearly unprecedented number of deadlines and political dramas -- everything from a debate on whether to fund Planned Parenthood to the Iran nuclear deal to whether to increase spending on military and/or domestic issues.
But adding to all that drama was a group of about 30 tea party Republicans threatening to oust Boehner as their leader if he didn't help them pass a budget that cut some $500 million for Planned Parenthood, one of the major sticking points in the budget negotiations.
Now, those very same conservatives have lost their main leverage to get what they want: Boehner is offering to step down himself.
"He took a bullet for the country," said Steve Bell, the director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
We're not in the clear yet, warn some experts. Just like very few people thought Boehner would resign, there's still a chance something unforeseen could crumple Boehner's careful plans to avoid a shutdown this week.
Here's our updated odds of the likelihood of a shutdown.
A shutdown was -- and still is -- certainly a possibility, said Molly Reynolds, a governance studies expert at the Brookings Institution with a focus on Congress. But it's a much, much smaller possibility with Boehner's resignation.
Now that he's not worried about losing his job, there's a clear path for him to collaborate with House Democrats to pass a spending bill Wednesday, even if it's over some House conservatives' objections.
She warns that we're not out of the woods yet. Boehner's step-down could embolden the conservative bloc in the House, which now has a victory to point to -- they essentially took down one of America's top leaders.
On the other hand, Boehner's need to preserve his own political capital for future conflicts has obviously been eliminated. Now, it's legacy time, and avoiding a shutdown would sure help that.
Less than 10 percent
Boehner's shocking step-down certainly takes the tension out of this month's budget debate, prominent budget analyst Stan Collender, a.k.a @thebudgetguy, tells The Fix, adding he's not at 0 percent only because in U.S. politics, anything could happen.
But the situation certainly makes a potential budget debate come December -- the current agreement will likely extend government funding only through Dec. 11 -- more difficult.
Tea party conservatives have indicated Friday they could agree to pass a short-term budget next week that funds Planned Parenthood. But the real showdown could come in two months, when an emboldened group of House conservatives could take yet another stand on Planned Parenthood or any number of issues.
"They got their trophy," in ousting Boehner, Collender said.
Peter Orszag, President Obama's former budget director, has also zipped his prediction of the likelihood of a shutdown down to null. But, in an e-mailed statement to The Fix, he added: "The risk of much more serious problems in November and December have unfortunately gone up sharply."
We'll get to that in due time.
Bell, a former top Republican congressional budget aide, said conservatives' tough stance on Planned Parenthood was an unforeseen drama for many budget-watchers.
The fact that tea party Republicans were willing to up the negotiating stakes by threatening to oust Bohener -- a rare move -- indicated they had no intention to back down. As such, Bell pegged his prediction as high as 67 percent that the government would shut down, most recently on Wednesday predicting the likelihood of a shutdown at 60 percent.
Boehner's exit has, of course, changed all of that. Now, Bell said, the entire power dynamic in the House has switched from tea party conservatives to House Democrats, who can demand what they want to help Boehner pass a budget over the heads of those clamoring to get rid of Planned Parenthood funding.
"We have a new speaker now," he said, "and her name is [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi [D-Calif.]."
Among the many other issues Congress is still debating that could have caused a shutdown was the Export-Import Bank, debates over ending automatic budget cuts and the Iran nuclear deal. Oh, and Congress still must approve a fund by Oct. 29 to help pay for highways and bridges (known as the Highway Trust Fund).
Put that all together, and it was originally 75 percent likely the government would shut down for at least a day or two, estimated Jim Manley, a former high-ranking Senate Democratic aide to then-Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). There was simply too much to get done and too many pressure points.
But soon Manley downgraded his prediction to 50-50, telling The Fix he had become "convinced a shutdown can be avoided" because he sensed that congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle were doing everything they could to prevent a shutdown. The fact that tea party leader Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) didn't try to block procedures in the Senate to pass a budget that funds Planned Parenthood was another indicator leadership had successfully avoided a shutdown.
The wildcard, Manley told The Fix prior to Boehner's announcement, was whether conservatives would follow through on their threat and mount a coup to kick out Boehner. Boehner's willing exit takes that wildcard out of play, and now Manley said the government is most likely not going to shut down.
To summarize ...
If still you're fretting about the potential shutdown, consider this: Perhaps the threat of a shutdown is simply necessary these days to spur Congress to solve the nation's problems — or at least agree to keep the government running. (And don't forget that many government employees last time got their back pay when the government reopened.)
"Nothing in this day and age gets done without the threat of cliffs," Manley pointed out.
True, and sometimes that threat is enough to forge an 11th-hour compromise, as it did in 2011 when Manley was one of many predicting a shutdown.
Whatever happens, we'll keep you updated.
More required reading on a possible shutdown: