Sunday, September 29, 2013

Possible Scenarios

No news on the shutdown front today, but some analysis.  Negotiations have completely broken down, so the House and the Senate are playing volleyball.  Since only the House can originate revenue bills, it always serves.  So far, it has served a continuing resolution to keep government funded for two more months and repeals Obamacare, and the Democrats stripped it of the repeal (and for some reason shortened it by a month) and bounced it back.  Now, Republicans have served a similar resolution that delays Obamacare for a year.  Democrats are expected to spike it, and government shuts down.  No one knows what will follow.

Apparently Republicans expect Democrats in the Senate to agree to a one-year delay of Obamacare in return for continuing funding of the government for another two months.  Democrats say they will not accept any changes whatever.  Two Democrats in the House defected on the delay, and Joe Manchin of West Virginia is expected to defect in the Senate.  But it will not pass.  Republicans are vague on what they will do next, but hint at "fundamental reforms."  What they have in mind remains to be seen.  Presumably more Democrats will defect, but not enough to pass the bill in the Senate.  As I have said before, I certainly think they should reject anything that shuts down the exchanges or does not allow subsidies to buy insurance.  But I see no reason to reject minor changes like ending the medical implants tax, refusing subsidies to members of Congress, or even a conscience exception to the contraceptive mandate.  On the other hand, I don't think a two-month continuing resolution is sufficient in exchange.  If Democrats agree to a two month funding, the whole thing will just start over again, except the Boehner will presumably have been deposed as Speaker and replaced with someone truly crazy. If I were the Democratic leader and were offered relatively  minor changes in return for a two-month extension, I would reject it, but instead of fuming about never accepting changes, I would fume about only postponing things by two months and use whatever back channels I had to let it be known that I would pass it, in exchange for a longer extension.  How long?  Well, if humanly possible, for the fiscal year.  If not, at least well into next year, so that during the next showdown, Republicans will be pushing to strip people of their insurance instead of merely blocking it.

Then there is the matter of the debt ceiling.  That is truly scary.  As I have discussed, I really think it has to be resolved  before government reopens.  And it is dangerous.  The House has 435 members, so a 218 majority is required to pass legislation.  Republicans have a 234-201 majority.  But apparently 10-15 Republicans refuse to lift the debt ceiling under any circumstances, so the republicans only have a 224 to 219 majority.  Furthermore, apparently at least some Republicans will only agree to a debt ceiling with conditions attached so extreme as to be utterly unacceptable to either the Democrats or (probably) most Americans.  Boehner apparently intends to offer this as an opening gambit, recognizing that Democrats will bargain him down to less.  Accept that "less" will not garner a majority in the House.  After his first serve is spiked, Boehner will not be able to get the ball over the net.  And in the debt ceiling, both sides can serve.  Democrats in the Senate are preparing a clean debt ceiling increase to serve to the House.  Big money interests are getting nervous.  They will, I trust, give John Boehner a good talking to and convince him, in the end, that, for the good of his country, he has not choice but to bring a clean debt ceiling bill to the floor and pass it with mostly Democratic votes.  He will then be deposed as Speaker and replaced with a crazy.

So, assuming we find a way to continue the government for another two months while modifying but not ending Obamacare and make a clean debt ceiling increase, in two months we will be right back where we started, with two exceptions.  First, there will no longer be a risk of default, which will be good.  Second, the House will be led an someone truly crazy, ready to shut down government as long as it takes to get his way.  I can only hope that when Boehner decides to perform the sacrificial act, he agrees with me that such an outcome will not do either his country or his party any good and decides that he might as well be hanged for two sheep as for one.  And that he extends the continuing resolution for the remainder of the fiscal year, subject to whatever conditions probing has revealed  the Democrats will take.  If he manages that, then the lunatics can run the asylum without doing much harm until a year from now.

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