To shut down or not to shut down, is the question

Maybe the possibility of a shutdown isn't as great as some pundits are making it out to be, says In Depth host Francis Rose.

Maybe I’m a pollyanna, and not looking at the realities of the budget crisis, but I’m not as worried about the prospect of a government shutdown on Sept. 30 (or any other time soon) as some of D.C.’s most respected budget experts.

Four experts tell The Washington Post at what percentage they rate the probability of a shutdown, and why. And the results aren’t positive. The best odds come from former Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag, and his odds are an ambiguous “over 50 percent.” A former aide to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Jim Manley, puts the odds at over 70 percent.

Their reasons are all logical, reasonable, and possible. But the discussion about a shutdown features a different dynamic than the 2013 shutdown did, and I haven’t seen any pundits anywhere discuss it.

That dynamic is leverage. In 2013, those who wanted the shutdown (Tea Party Republicans) had the most leverage. The members pushing a shutdown now, or at least predicting one, are the ones with the least leverage (mostly those same Tea Partiers, but in a House Republican caucus that is both larger and features a different dynamic). Maybe those members will exact some sort of revenge on House Speaker John Boehner after a deal is done, but an effort to knock Boehner off his post will take longer to put together than 20 days.

Another reason is political. Conventional wisdom says Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is now a presidential candidate, so he’ll lead a charge toward shutdown again, as he did in 2013, to boost his campaign. The problem with the conventional wisdom is two-fold. One, he alienated some of his 2013 followers in the House when they took the fall for the shutdown after he told them they wouldn’t be blamed. Two, Sen. Cruz is likely to be former Sen. Cruz if he becomes point man on a successful shutdown effort this year. Politico reports Cruz’s fellow Senate Republicans have had enough of his grandstanding. Some Hill Republicans tell me they wouldn’t be surprised to see the other Senator from Texas, Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), round up a candidate to run against Cruz in the Republican primary when Cruz is up for reelection in 2018. Therefore, Cruz has incentive to grandstand just enough to call attention to his campaign, but not enough to damage Republicans who could knock him off.

So I agree with government contracting expert Larry Allen, who told me this morning he thinks the probability of a shutdown is 25 percent. That’s not zero, so I’m reminded of the line from “Dumb and Dumber”:

There’s probably more of a chance of a shutdown happening than Jim Carrey’s character connecting with that woman, but it’s still a longshot. Keep watching the Hill… keep listening to Federal News Radio… but don’t lose any sleep over it.

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