Don't Lose Sleep Over a Government Shutdown

Odds are, congressional leaders won't let it happen.

Trust me.

Photographer: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Congress returns today, back to its budget mess. It hasn't passed a single appropriations bill in 2015 and isn't likely to before Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year. That means federal agencies will have no money to spend in a few short weeks.  

To keep the government's doors open, Republicans are expected to try to pass a short-term spending bill. Will they succeed?

Budget maven Stan Collender at Forbes has become more pessimistic, now estimating a two-thirds chance of a government shutdown. After all, some radicals are still demanding that Republicans try to use the deadline to defund Planned Parenthood, and Republican public opinion remains strongly opposed to cutting deals with President Barack Obama and the Democrats. And any spending bills must survive Democratic filibusters in the Senate and the possibility of a presidential veto.

Yet Republican leaders in Congress are publicly against using a shutdown threat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has specifically said he wants no confrontation over Planned Parenthood, and he and House Speaker John Boehner have been saying the right things about budgeting all year. 

Of course, neither party wants to start bargaining by saying it will eventually give in, often at the last minute. Both sides owe it to their constituents to hold out to get the best possible deal. 

This kind of brinkmanship can lead to miscalculations that cause shutdowns lasting a day or two. But it isn't what leads to extended government shutdowns. These happen when party members decide, mistakenly, that bringing one about will help them get their way over something. This was the Republican strategy twice in 1995 and once in 2013. 

The handful of radicals who would support such a deliberate course now don't count for much by themselves. They can always be expected to vote against any spending proposal that Boehner and McConnell introduce if there's even a hope that Obama would sign it. As long as the rest of the Republican conference doesn't join them, the odds remain low that we'll get a real shutdown. 

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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