The Odds of a Government Shutdown Are Falling, Not Rising

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 18 2013 5:10 PM

The Odds of a Government Shutdown Are Falling, Not Rising

It's all unfolding according to my incredibly tedious plan.

Photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

A Jonathan Weisman Ashley Parker piece headlined "House Bill Cuts Health Funds, Raising Odds of U.S. Shutdown" is going to alarm a lot of New York Times readers tomorrow morning.

But read on to the second graf of the piece and you'll see that the odds are not rising at all. What's happening is that John Boehner is preparing to pass an appropriations bill that also defunds Obamacare that he knows perfectly well stands no chance of passing, and he's hoping that doing this will placate the right wing of the his caucus for when he surrenders.

Here they explain:

House leaders are hoping the vote on the defunding measure will placate conservatives once the Democratically controlled Senate rejects it. The House, they are betting, would then pass a stopgap spending measure unencumbered by such policy baggage and shift the argument to the debt ceiling, which must be raised by mid-October if the government is to avoid an economically debilitating default.

The key thing to remember here is that the House, as a discretionary decision, operates by the "Hastert Rule" in which only bills that are supported by a majority of GOP members can be brought to the floor for a vote. There is no Hastert-compliant appropriations bill that can pass the Senate. But there very likely is majority support in the House for the kind of "clean" funding bill that can also pass the Senate. All that has to happen is for John Boehner to violate the Hastert Rule. And the Hastert Rule isn't actually a rule, it's something Boehner has put aside many times. But it's also a rule he can't flagrantly ignore, lest his caucus get too grumpy and depose him. The operating theory here is that if Boehner has the whole House GOP indulge the maximalist faction by all passing a defuding bill, that creates enough room to move to later violate the Hastert Rule and pass a continuing resolution.

If anything is happening to the odds of a shutdown, in other words, they're falling, not rising.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.


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