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The shutdown just saved the world

There's nothing good about a government shutdown. But when this one began, a number of us welcomed it. A shutdown, we argued, made a breach of the debt ceiling less likely. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal even gave the argument a hashtag: #TeamShutdown.

Congress, you're doing a terrible job. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

The case was nicely made by Alec Philips of Goldman Sachs. "If a shutdown occurs, we would be surprised if congressional Republicans would want to risk another difficult situation only a couple of weeks later," he wrote. "The upshot is that while a shutdown would be unnecessarily disruptive, it might actually ease passage of a debt limit increase."

The idea was that if House Republicans got their shutdown Oct.1, they would be feeling enough political pain by Oct. 17 that they wouldn't dare add to it by breaching the debt ceiling. And that's exactly what happened.


"With the Republican-controlled House of Representatives engaged in a tense, government-shuttering budgetary standoff against a Democratic president and Senate, the Republican Party is now viewed favorably by 28% of Americans, down from 38% in September," writes Gallup. "This is the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992."

In addition, markets are beginning to shudder. The GOP's business supporters are growing angry. Attention is being diverted from Obamacare's glitchy launch.

Politico reports that Speaker John Boehner's decision to pay the bills for another six weeks is "a recognition of the political reality that he can’t engage in an increasingly long and grinding high-stakes government funding battle while also threatening the creditworthiness of the United States."

The Tea Party agrees. "We do not support clean debt ceiling increases," writes Michael Needham of Heritage Action for America, "but because Heritage Action is committed to giving House Leadership the flexibility they need to refocus the debate on Obamacare we will not key vote against the reported proposal.”

It's not clear what Republicans believe their endgame is here. The Tea Party believes it can swing attention to Obamacare. The Republican establishment wants budget negotiations with the White House. So far, the White House is holding firm to its position that there can be no negotiations until the government reopens.

But whatever the endgame, the fight now is over a government shutdown. That's bad. But it's not nearly as bad as a fight over the debt ceiling. It's evidence of how far into dysfunction American politics has fallen that this can or should be said, but thank God for the government shutdown. It might just have saved the country.



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Brad Plumer · October 10, 2013

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