Congress Looks Resigned to a Shutdown

Carolyn Kaster/AP

Do you think the government is going to shut down? That's what CBS's Bob Schieffer asked Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill, on Face the Nation Sunday morning. "I'm afraid I do," he said.

Right now, with a day and change left before the government shuts down if Congress can't agree on how to fund it, Durbin's prediction is looking pretty sage.

If for no other reason, that's because with so little time left, the frame of the debate is still far from a position that could yield a real negotiation. On Sunday, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., took up a line on the budget fight that seems to prime the government for a shutdown. "It's not a good idea to give the president 100 percent of what he wants on Obamacare without compromise," Paul said on Face the Nation. "We've been offering him compromises." On Meet the Press, Ted Cruz said much the same thing: 

We shouldn't have a shutdown, which means that Harry Reid needs to move off his absolutist position. His position, you've seen multiple compromises from the Republicans and you've seen zero, I mean, can you tell me any movement the Democrats have had whatsoever?

The "compromise" that Republicans are currently offering is highlighted by a one-year delay of Obamacare. The compromise is that this action would be kinder to Senate Democrats and President Obama than defunding or repealing the health care law altogether. It's also a position that is far to the right of what most Senate Democrats and Obama would consider negotiating over.

The "compromise" line appears to be the frame of choice for Republicans right now. "Tonight, we offer the Democratic minority a compromise," Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, said on the House floor before Sunday morning's vote. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., suggested on the floor that Democrats were crazy not to accept the one-year-delay compromise. Delaying Obamacare, Rand Paul said Sunday morning, is a "new compromise."

Or, as Cruz more fully put it on Meet the Press:

It is the Democrats who have taken the absolutist position. Look, I'd like to repeal every word of the law. But that wasn't my position in this fight. My position in this fight was we should defund it, which is different from repeal. And even now what the House of Representatives has done is a step removed from defunding. It's delaying. Now that's the essence of a compromise. For all of us who want to see it repealed, simply delaying it for American families on the same terms as being done for big corporations—that's a compromise.

At the same time, David, what have the Democrats compromised on? Nothing. Zero. Their position is absolutely no. How is that compromise?

Since his marathon speech earlier this week, Cruz has taken a surprisingly leading role among House Republicans, including leading meetings to push conservatives to hold strong against passing a continuing resolution that leaves Obamacare untouched. Right now, that's the position that seems to be dominating. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested on Fox News Sunday that if the Senate kills the latest House CR (which it will likely do by Monday afternoon), then the House Republicans still won't plan to move much off their Obamacare compromise, and continue to insist on "fundamental changes" to the law.

Unless Sunday morning's talk was just posturing, or barring some kind of radical shift in negotiating strategy, the terms of a compromise to keep the government open are at this point very unlikely to yield room for bipartisan negotiation. So if Dick Durbin is a betting man, he may want to put his money where his mouth is.

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