How the Shutdown Could End Well

If Americans get angry enough, Republicans will fold

How the Shutdown Could End Well
Barricades at Washington's National Mall prevent entry to the World War II Memorial on Oct. 1
Photograph by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Well, I got what I asked for. Republicans shut down the government. All sorts of lousy things will ensue: National parks are closed, the IRS won’t answer your phone calls, the military won’t immediately reimburse the families of troops who die during the shutdown for the cost of their funeral. What a mess.

But there is still a possibility that this could end well—“well” meaning “relative to other options.” The biggest worry right now is that the shutdown sows such anger and contempt in siege-minded Republicans that they carry forward the fight to the next deadline, the expiration of the U.S. Treasury’s borrowing authority later this month. As I wrote last night, we can now see clear signs that the market is beginning to worry about the possibility of default.

That’s why the best thing that could happen now is a swift, severe blowback from angry Americans at the legislators who forced the shutdown. Such as pitchforks and stuff. Late last night, as the shutdown deadline neared, you could sense many Republicans losing their nerve—a moderate coalition led by Representative Peter King of New York tried to rally colleagues to pass a “clean” continuing resolution that Democrats would have accepted and that would have averted the shutdown.

King failed. But now that the government is closed, the large contingent of Americans who take the view that “those idiots in Washington always work it out at the last minute” have woken up to discover that there are bigger idiots in the Capitol than even they had imagined. These Americans will be angry, and they probably will take out their wrath mainly on Republicans. If so, this could force GOP hardliners to back down and reopen the government. At that point, it’s hard to imagine Republicans turning around the next day and forcing default.

My Bloomberg News colleague Mike Dorning has a story today looking at just this possibility. And he actually finds a number of shutdown optimists. “It has the potential to make a significant difference,” Dan Meyer, former chief of staff to Newt Gingrich  when Gingrich was House Speaker, told Dorning. Some Republicans “want to play a little too close to the flame here and, frankly, some of them need to get their fingers singed. … They’ll start feeling the heat pretty quick.”

They had better. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Treasury will be unable to meet its obligations sometime between Oct. 22 and Oct. 31. That gives Americans about three weeks to register their displeasure and jolt Republican hardliners back to their senses. If they don’t, a shutdown will be the least of our problems.

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