Pick Your Own Ending: Shutdown Version

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President Obama and Speaker Boehner talked this morning by phone – always a good sign that the lines of communications remain open. Though, the fact that the discussion lasted all of three minutes is a tad troubling. As the government lurches towards a possible shutdown, I thought it would be useful to outline the choices facing the leaders this week.

  1. They reach a deal to cut $33 40* billion and the government is funded for the rest of the year. The challenge here is that the two sides couldn’t even agree on how to cut $33 billion so how are they going to find another $7 billion in cuts? Not to mention those pesky riders… I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m just saying, if a deal is reached it’ll happen just before midnight Friday when the funding runs out. Congress works best on a deadline. If a plan is in place, a shutdown over the weekend would be treated by the media as a minor blip – as the last time it happened under George H. W. Bush – and life would return to normal on Monday.*Boehner reportedly rejected the $33 billion number at the White House meeting yesterday and said he wanted $40 billion in cuts.
  2. Boehner passes a one-week extension that cuts $12 billion and the Senate eats it. This is actually more plausible than I’d originally thought. The White House and Senate have rejected the offer as outrageous but the $12 billion in cuts are part of the $16 billion both sides have already agreed to. The only rider on it is a relatively non-controversial one dealing with funding abortions in DC that has the most bipartisan support of any of the riders. So, will Dems really risk a shut down over $12 billion in cuts they already support? Boehner is trying to box Dems into taking more responsibility for a potential shut down than they’d like. The problem with a week-long $12 billion extension is that it takes some of the sweeteners off of the final bill – meaning Boehner would likely demand another $18 billion in cuts to pass the longer-term extension. Which puts negotiators back in the same spot as they are above: scrounging for another $7 billion they don’t have. At least they’d have an extra week to work on it.
  3. Midnight Saturday comes and goes and the government shuts down with no plan in place. This is the worst-case scenario. A shut down under these circumstances would take weeks to solve as the calculus of everyone’s position changes. It raises the stakes and makes compromise incredibly difficult. An estimated 800,000 federal workers would be furloughed during that time. On the upside: we’d get to watch Jan Brewer try to use the National Guard to forcibly open Grand Canyon National Park.