Early Returns

Give the Players Credit for Avoiding a Shutdown

Jonathan Bernstein's morning links.

Playing nice.

Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool

Give the Republican Congress credit: It has succeeded, for the third time this year (if I recall correctly), in not shutting down the government

Granted, things have only been delayed for two weeks. Congress has that long to figure out how to fund most programs for the remainder of the fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, which was the original deadline for yearly spending bills. Or perhaps they will kick the can down the road a little further. 

Congress Averts Shutdown, Stays Focused on Taxes

Avoiding a really pointless accidental shutdown may not be much, but at least they were able to do it.

Not only that, but by keeping their own senators in line, Republicans were able to keep the government running without having to give the Democrats anything. With 221 Republican votes, the two-week bill didn't need any Democrats at all (and only received 14). House Democrats mostly voted against the extension, but Senate Democrats sensibly refrained from using the filibuster against it, and in fact many of them voted yes. It's not clear why, but one reason might have been to give themselves a little rhetorical space if they choose to fight any further extensions. At any rate, of the three groups with the ability to shut the government down -- House Republicans, Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats -- none of them did. And presumably Donald Trump will sign the bill, too, so even he is being responsible. 

Of course, this hardly means that the government is running well. House Freedom Caucus radicals mostly voted for this extension, but that doesn't mean that they'll support appropriations for the rest of the fiscal year at the levels that other Republicans can support. If they don't, then Democrats get their leverage back, and they'll be asking for protection for "Dreamers," full funding for disaster relief, protections for the Affordable Care Act, and what they consider equity in funding between national security spending and domestic spending. Some Republicans are on board with those positions, with other Republicans strongly opposed.

In theory, all of this should be amenable to normal bargaining, but with so many factions and issues, it can take a long time, especially with plenty of other priorities competing for the attention of party leaders (who, in the current centralized chambers, are the most important negotiators). But so far, at least, none of the serious players (other than the president) seem to believe that they have anything to gain from a shutdown. 

My guess is that at some point, they'll come right up to or even slightly over the deadline -- either the newly established Dec. 22 target or the January one they'll choose if they're not close in two weeks -- and then finally strike a deal. Going right up to a deadline isn't really bad governing; that's how the players learn what each side is really willing to do. The problem, as always, is the possibility of miscalculation, but even then it's always possible to quickly pass a short continuing resolution to prevent a shutdown -- and the pressure to do so will presumably be pretty strong just before Christmas. That won't matter if one of the groups with the votes to make it happen decides it wants a shutdown, but accidentally closing the doors of the government seems even more unlikely than usual later this month. 

1. Marc Lynch at the Monkey Cage on Trump and Jerusalem

2. Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson at Vox ask why Republicans have spent the year pushing two unprecedentedly unpopular bills. Important piece. One immediate criticism: Hacker and Pierson claim that Republicans believe they can "stick it to voters and still hold onto power." Perhaps. It's possible that Republican politicians are willing to risk their seats for policy gains. And it's possible Republican politicians are trapped within a conservative closed information loop and don't realize how unpopular their legislative proposals are. They may even believe their own (false) claims that the rich will lose out on the tax bill. And the lessons they learned from the 2016 election might be particularly poisonous if they have mistakenly concluded that public opinion polls are bunk. 

3. Ally Mutnick at National Journal reports on a fascinating House Democratic primary in Kentucky

4. Harry Enten on the new Senate contest in Minnesota

5. And my Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson on living with the fires in Los Angeles

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    Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

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