Speaker of the House John Boehner, one of the many losers of the shutdown debacle. Photo via Flickr user Gage Skidmore
Around noon today, it became increasingly clear that the manufactured crisis that was the government shutdown is going to end the way everyone knew it would, with the Republican position collapsing. A bill written in the Senate that will keep the government open until January and lift the debt ceiling until February is currently making its way through both houses of Congress – it just passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House tonight. (If you're interested in real-time developments, the Guardian has an informative liveblog going.) When the bill passes, the furloughed federal workers will go back to their jobs and receive back pay, the US can avoid defaulting on its loans, and all the other stuff this shutdown has screwed up will go back to the way it was before the Tea Party Republicans in the House attempted to defund Obamacare by refusing to fund the rest of the government.
The only concession made to the GOP was an inclusion in the bill of a change to Obamacare that will force those receiving health insurance subsidies to verify their incomes, a tiny tweak not worth a major battle that, among other real-world consequences, damaged the livelihoods of businesses near national parks.
I wonder how future history textbooks will explain all this. (Of course, there probably won’t be actual paper textbooks and the study of the past will be shunted aside in favour of standardised testing for students of all ages, but you know what I mean.) It’s going to be difficult to tell future generations how a minority faction of the minority party brought the government to a standstill. It’ll be harder still for them to understand why this faction supported a tactic that was so sure to fail that everyone who wasn’t part of the far right media echo chamber was continuously denouncing it – conservative writers like Matt Lewis were against the defund Obamacare “crusade”, as was the Chamber of Commerce, which normally supports the GOP. By the second week of the shutdown, public opinion had (predictably) turned on Republicans to such an extent that even Ann Coulter, who is immune to irony, started ranting against the “hucksters, shysters and people ripping off the Republican Party for their own self-aggrandizement.” On Tuesday night, Business Insider’s Josh Barro called House Republicans “dangerously incompetent”, while the conservative editorial board at the Wall Street Journal summarised the situation like this:
“[The GOP] picked a goal they couldn't achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn't sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.
President Obama called their bluff, no doubt in part to blame the disruption on the GOP and further tarnish the party's public image. Now the most Republicans will get out of this is lower public approval and a chance to negotiate with Mr. Obama again before the next debt-limit deadline.”
There aren’t any winners here, but the Republicans are the clear losers, in particular Speaker of the House John Boehner, who couldn’t get his caucus to vote to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown under conditions marginally more favourable to Republicans. Instead, thanks to the threat of default he’s being forced to bring the Senate bill to the House floor, where it will likely pass thanks to votes from Democrats and GOP representatives who just want to see this fucking thing end. That might mark the end of Boehner’s Speakership, which has turned into a disaster – a Washington Times headline said the conservative wing of his own party “sabotaged” him, while Republican congressman Tom Price told the New York Times that Boehner’s job was like “herding cats”. In that context, House Republicans could easily decide that Boehner needs to be replaced, even if it’s not clear what he could have done differently or who would be a better leader. (Some GOP activists have been calling for former vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan to step in for nearly a year.)
Even the Tea Partiers who led the charge to defund Obamacare at all costs have given up. Ted Cruz, whose speechifying was always more about his personal brand than achieving conservative goals, isn’t going to try to hold things up, and conservatives in the House are openly waving the white flag:
House conservatives read writing on wall RT @Chris_Moody GOP Rep. Mulvaney on the recent efforts to cripple parts of Obamacare: "We lost."
— Robert Costa (@robertcostaNRO) October 16, 2013
To recap: some conservatives pursued a legislative strategy that failed and made their party incredibly unpopular, just like everyone fucking said it would.
That’s pretty stupid, but even worse is the fact that none of the architects of that strategy will suffer the consequences they should. The Tea Party representatives are from districts so conservative (thanks at least partly to gerrymandering), they have little to fear in the way of electoral challenges from Democrats or even moderate Republicans. Pundits who were in favour of the shutdown like Rush Limbaugh will make their money no matter what happens to the GOP. And Cruz? Predictably, he blamed the “Washington establishment” for “refusing to listen to the American people [who were overwhelming against the shutdown and who hate my guts like poison]” for the disintegration of the Tea Party position. His hometown newspaper, the Houston Chronicle, has turned on him in a major way, but he’ll still probably run for president, write a best-selling book that panders to his increasingly narrow base of support, and at worst wind up having his own conservative talk radio show after suffering a primary defeat. None of these people will ever admit for a second that they were wrong.
The shutdown is ending on a “to be continued” note. What the Senate bill mainly does is kick the can down the road and give Democrats and Republicans a chance to negotiate a series of larger tax and budget compromises. That’s something they’ve been terrible at doing in the past, but whatever, maybe they’ll work it out somehow. Meanwhile, they have other business to attend to, like the long-delayed renewal of the debate over immigration reform and the reauthorisation of the farm bill, which is important to both cattle ranchers and poor people – problems that Congress could have been dealing with had they not had to spend weeks negotiating over whether the government should function normally.
In conclusion, let’s burn the Capitol Building down, scatter the ashes, and salt the earth so nothing can grow there.
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