Nobody wins if the government shuts down

Neither side has any real incentive to shut down the government, because neither side would expect to get a better final deal with the government closed than with the government open.

Fool me once, Mr. President.

Back in the spring, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, talked as if the administration would welcome a government shutdown, and Donald Trump tweeted about it. I concluded that the chances of the government closing its doors had gone way up, because, after all, extended shutdowns have only happened when one side wants them to happen. I still didn’t think it was likely, but I did think it was a possibility.

Well, it didn’t happen then, when Congress and the president had to fund the rest of fiscal-year 2017. And it didn’t happen in September, the original deadline for funding fiscal-year 2018 — they kicked the can down the road. And now we’re a week away from the Dec. 8 deadline, and the president is once again musing about how he could be helped politically if there’s an impasse. I did tweet out a reminder that shutdowns require someone who wants it to happen, but on reflection? I’m not biting this time. At least, mostly not.

Why not? Because I very much doubt that most House and Senate Republicans want a shutdown, and I don’t think congressional Democrats do, either. So they’ll probably reach a deal, although it may take more than one more short-term continuing resolution, stretching into January or February or even March, to get it done. If they do, Trump will probably sign whatever they come up with, whether it contains his priorities or not.

That still leaves a long way to go. The basic situation is simple. If Republicans could muster 218 votes in the House (where they have currently have 240 members) and at least 50 of their 52 senators plus the vice president for a funding bill, then Democrats would have minimal leverage. The minority party could still filibuster in the Senate, requiring Republicans to reach 60 votes. But while technically Democrats could stop any regular bill that way and force Republicans to make concessions, in reality it would be politically very difficult to force and maintain a shutdown supported by only a minority in the Senate. Even if the cause was popular (such as more money for favorite government programs or restoring the protections under DACA), and even with a very unpopular president, most neutral observers would…

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