Barring some miraculous turn of events, it appears the government shutdown will happen tonight. President Obama is confident that the majority of the public will blame Republicans for this and isn’t budging. House Speaker John Boehner may not be so sanguine about the political wisdom of his course of action, but he is also determined to follow the desires of his members to make a stand against the implementation of ObamaCare. Moreover, he seems to feel that after weeks if not months of searching for the right way to make this stand, his party has found two issues—a call for delaying the president’s signature health-care bill and a demand that Congress, its staff, and those that work in the White House not be exempt from it—that are eminently defensible reasons on which to stand their ground.
But just because both sides in this confrontation are finally where they want to be doesn’t mean that they are prepared to stick out a shutdown that will last longer than a day or two. What we will learn in the next 48 or 72 hours is which (if any) of the two parties will blink first once a government shutdown becomes a reality. Most in the press as well as Congress are betting it will be the Republicans. They reason that the pictures of closed national parks and other alleged hardships, not to mention falling stock prices and the potentially dangerous impact of the standoff on the economy will cause the GOP to crack even if they manage to get to midnight without surrendering.
But having come this far, Boehner may think that it would be more dangerous for his party to have gone to the brink for a day or two only to wave the white flag once the consequences of a shutdown raise the political stakes. If a shutdown happens, he may decide it will do the GOP less harm to stick it out than to have put the country through the wringer again only to give in once the going got tough.
Republicans leading the charge for a shutdown have been insisting all along that the president would be the one to blink if only Republicans stayed united and hung tough. That proposition is about to be tested, and based on President Obama’s late Monday afternoon appearance in which he once again dared the GOP to try him, it seems unlikely that he will fold so long as the liberal press is prepared to depict conservatives as a bunch of clowns.
He has been courting a shutdown since 2011 and clearly appears to believe that he can turn his sagging second term around by facing down the GOP and winning. Since he thinks the worse things get the better it will be for Democrats, he has no incentive to compromise even on the most reasonable of Republican demands about not exempting federal employees from the joys of ObamaCare.
But what the president may be about to discover is that he has backed the Republicans into a spot they also have no great incentive to abandon. The assumption that the Republicans will quail in the face of media opprobrium and sob stories about furloughed federal employees doesn’t take into account the fact that having stuck their necks out this far, a quick retreat may do them more harm than good. Not only would their base not forgive Boehner for cracking, but independents prepared to blame the Democrats or both parties equally for the problem might think worse of them for acting as if the whole thing was a charade.
If so, we may be in for a longer confrontation than anyone thought with consequences for both sides that are equally unpredictable. Fasten your seat belts; it’s going to be a bumpy shutdown.