The Fleshy Part of the Budget
How Democrats and Republicans are already spinning a government shutdown.
In "The Fleshy Part of the Thigh," one of the last episodes of The Sopranos, Bobby Bacala approaches a rapper with an idea: For a fee, he'll shoot him in the aforementioned body part. The hitman gets a payday; the rapper gets cred. It's win-win.
This is a useful way of understanding the budget debate in Congress this week, which will end either with a government shutdown or with another cost-cutting, face-saving compromise. There's no point in compromising before the very last second. President Obama has to promise not to sign a one-week funding measure, because he can't look like he's caving—liberals had their fill of that when he signed the tax cut deal last December. House Speaker John Boehner has to repeat, again and again, and again, that he's trying to get the "biggest cuts" he can, and will accept no deal that lacks the support of 218 Republicans.
As the White House says no deal, it sets up meetings—there's another one with Boehner Wednesday night. As Republicans say no deal, they take meetings and revisit one-week stopgaps. In the prisoner's dilemma playing out right now, it's important that everyone act as obstinate and offended and inflexible as he or she possibly can. There are fights coming on the debt ceiling and the new Republican budget, so for now, the players get to pick which battles they get scarred in. (In The Sopranos, Bobby doesn't get his whole fee and he shoots the rapper in a different body part, so the analogy is admittedly imperfect.)
And this is why the fight over the shutdown has become so predictable. Become might not even be the right word—it's been predictable for months, ever since Republicans and Democrats mused about the apocalyptic gridlock that would come if Boehner became speaker. Nothing has changed the basic fact that voters are more likely to blame Republicans if the government closes down for a while. The weeks of pre-buttal and pre-spin haven't changed anything.
There have been four basic arguments, two for each party.
Republican Argument I: Shut it down. Before Republicans got their message right, at some point in March, this was the standard GOP line. It was gold on the campaign trail. In September, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, R-Ga., told a conference organized by Ralph Reed that a shutdown was on the way, and basked in the applause.
"They're going to come and say, 'Daddy can't go to the V.A., the national parks are closed,' " Westmoreland warned. "We need to make sure you're going to be with us."
David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at email@example.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.
Photograph of John Boehner by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.