GOP leadership aides are also worried that the narrative of the shutdown stories will be that House Speaker John Boehner is too beholden to the "Tea Party crazies." That diminishes Boehner's stature and suggests the House is out of control. What about those Tea Party freshman? "They understand that if [Democratic Senator] Chuck Schumer is rooting for a shutdown it's not good for them," says a GOP leadership aide.
So what will happen? A slight advantage goes to Republicans. "Without presidential help," says a senior Senate Democratic aide, "we don't have the tactical ability to fight this out." Reid's staffers have been negotiating with Boehner's office for the last few weeks, and while relations have been cordial, House Republicans are not moving off their request for cuts.
House GOP appropriators released a two-week continuing resolution Friday afternoon. It will call for $4 billion in cuts. That's a pro-rated share of the $60 billion in cuts House Republicans called for in their bill to fund government operations for the remainder of the fiscal year. But the pain won't be pro-rated: The programs to be cut are ones Obama has already said he wants cut, say House GOP aides, along with some earmark funds.
House Republicans believe that the more reasonable they make this new short-term measure, the more Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to get some Democrats to vote for it. Twenty-three of them are up for re-election in 2012, many in tight races in states where they need to appeal to moderates and independents who, according to polls, care more about deficit reduction.
Reid will have to see what his Democratic colleagues say when they come back to Washington after their weeklong recess. The House will vote on the shortened funding measure Tuesday, which gives the Senate several days to take a vote. Republicans make it sound like their two-week fix will give everyone enough time to discuss the larger bill with the nearly $60 billion in reductions for this year. It's not that simple, say Democrats. Two weeks is an awfully short time. One White House official said they want to avoid having to agree to a series of two-week extensions that essentially add up to $60 billion in the end.
If Republicans have all this leverage, why not take a harder line? Why stop at $4 billion in cuts in this temporary two-week funding measure? Because they don't want to push their luck. They want to stick Reid with blame for shutting down the government if he can't get his caucus behind this smaller continuing resolution. The more aggressive they are with their demands, the more they might get blamed if it fails.
It turns out Hill staffers probably don't have to worry about losing their BlackBerries. Congress is considered "essential" in a government shutdown (though, try telling that to the Tea Party). That means they are allowed to keep working and thumbing away on their digital devices. The initial fears about losing connectivity were overblown, which may go for the fears of a shutdown at the end of next week, too.