Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

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