Here we go again.

Photographer: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

House Radicals Will Lose Shutdown Fight

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Here comes another shutdown showdown scare. But probably no government shutdown.

The threat, coming as usual from radical House Republicans, is over reports that President Barack Obama will act soon on immigration. They are insisting that language prohibiting Obama's executive action be included in a government-financing bill that has to be passed in the lame-duck Congress.

This sets up, as Benjy Sarlin of MSNBC explains, a trap for the House Republican leaders. If they include that provision, the still Democratic Senate won’t go along, the government will shut down, and Republicans will be blamed. If they omit the language, however, House Speaker John Boehner will need to rely on Democratic votes to pass the funding bill, thus giving Democrats additional leverage in any negotiations.

No matter how divided the government, these bills will eventually pass and be signed into law. And they will pass with at least the tacit support, and more likely the clear support, of the president, House speaker and Senate majority leader.

Any number of messes and disasters can happen before getting to that step, including a prolonged shutdown. But shutdowns always end, and they end with the leaders of both parties having to cut a deal. So it's no surprise that Boehner and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have consistently opposed them.

Significant government shutdowns happen by design, not by accident. House Speaker Newt Gingrich in 1995-1996 wanted one because he foolishly thought President Bill Clinton was weak and would fold. Senator Ted Cruz wanted the 2013 shutdown because … well, because he’s a demagogue and wanted to be able to differentiate himself from other conservatives.

That leaves two questions. Do Republican House radicals really want a government shutdown this Christmas, knowing they will lose? And are those Republicans in the conservative mainstream willing to stand up to the radicals now, or would they prefer to wait until after a shutdown?

The House and Senate Republican leaders will work to avoid a fight they can’t win. They’ll probably succeed. Yet they knew all of this in 2013, and the shutdown happened anyway. So we’ll just have to see.

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Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at