By Peter Grier
WASHINGTON — The government shutdown is now entering its second week.
Is the U.S. political situation that produced it getting better — or
Well, it’s better in the sense that both sides have had a week to look
tough. House Speaker John Boehner has shown Tea Party conservatives
that he’ll stick with them past the shutdown cliff, despite pressure
to relent from establishment Republicans. President Obama has
demonstrated to Democrats that he’ll fight hard to protect a health
reform law that reflects the party’s longtime priorities.
It’s Negotiation 101: posture at the outset to establish your
position. Then begin a search for solutions from a position of
But that doesn’t seem to be happening in this case. Both sides are
continuing to espouse positions the other says it can’t tolerate.
Rhetoric is becoming personal and vindictive, and the fight seems to
be escalating into a larger showdown that’s about the fighting as much
as it is about policies.
So in that sense, things are getting worse. Right now there seems no
obvious way out. It’s a classic prisoners’ dilemma, writes veteran
Washington hand Stan Collender. While all the parties to the fight may
benefit from working together, working together has become so
difficult that the worst of all possible outcomes, a longer and more
destructive shutdown, may be the result.
“I see the shutdown lasting at least another week… and two or three
more weeks after that are becoming increasingly likely. I’m also
raising the likelihood of the debt ceiling not being raised by October
17 — the date Treasury says it will be needed — to 1 in 3 instead of
my previous estimate of 1 in 4,” writes Mr. Collender, a senior
executive at Qorvis Communications, on Monday on his “Capital Gains
and Games” blog.
Here’s how the situation stands: On Sunday, Speaker Boehner reiterated
that he won’t bring to the floor a clean government funding bill — one
shorn of provisions defunding, delaying, or otherwise modifying
Obamacare. He said he won’t attempt to raise the debt ceiling without
Democratic concessions, either.
“The fact is, this fight was going to come one way or another,”
Boehner said on ABC News’s “This Week.”
Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew, in Sunday show appearances,
replied that House Republicans have created a “ridiculous choice”
where getting rid of the Affordable Care Act is the price of opening
the government or avoiding a U.S. debt default.
The GOP needs “to open the government,” Secretary Lew said on “Fox
News Sunday.” “They need to fund our ability to pay our bills. And
then we’re open to negotiation.”
The current Washington political situation is akin to the Civil War
Battle of Gettysburg, in the view of a top House Republican quoted by
right-leaning Washington Examiner political writer Byron York in a
At Gettysburg, a Confederate unit out looking for supplies stumbled
into Union cavalry. Suddenly, they were caught in a fight they had not
intended on terrain they had not picked.
“Everybody just kept feeding troops into it. That’s basically what’s
happening now in a political sense. This isn’t exactly the fight I
think Republicans wanted to have, certainly that the leadership wanted
to have, but it’s the fight that’s here,” this member of Congress told
Does Boehner see any path out of this situation?
It’s possible he does, according to another well-connected
conservative journalist, Robert Costa of the National Review.
Don’t read too much into the “fight-to-the-death posturing” of the
most adamant Republican House members, Mr. Costa wrote in a Washington
Post opinion column last week.
Look instead to the smaller clues of Boehner’s behind-the-scenes talks
with House members about a grand package deal that would raise the
debt ceiling in return for Democratic concessions on tax and
Those talks are “evidence of how the impasse will probably end: with
an eleventh-hour, smaller compromise that Boehner has been slowly but
surely shepherding,” Costa wrote.
Of course, for that to be the case, the Obama administration would
have to retreat from its current position that there can be no fiscal
negotiations until the government is open and the debt ceiling raised.