U.S. Shambling Toward Autumn Political-Financial Crisis

Get ready for more file photos of me to illustrate stories this fall.

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

As best I can tell everyone’s given up on following congressional politics, but the country appears to be shambling in the direction of a new politically-induced budgetary and financial crisis this fall.

The proximate issue is that even though Republicans have a majority in the House of Representatives, it’s not a huge majority and they’ve been consistently unable to come up with a strategy for funding the government’s discretionary functions that can pass the House. All Republicans are insisting on freezing sequestration-levels of spending into place on the domestic side while easing it on the military side. Democrats won’t vote for that. But the most strident Republicans won’t vote for it either. They want to insist on repealing or defunding or otherwise gutting Obamacare as a permission for allowing the government to keep operating past September 30. So they keep not passing anything and taking more days off even as the expiration of government funding keeps getting closer and closer.

Most likely I think this doesn’t lead to a government shutdown. The optimal strategy for John Boehner to ride the tiger of his caucus’ nuttiness is to delay delay delay and then at the last minute announce that there isn’t enough time left for a prolonged negotiation. Then he passes a short-term extension of the current Continuing Resolution that relies on Democratic votes to pass and promises his caucus that the real concessions will be won when federal borrowing authority expires.

That, too, will probably end with Republican caving and then set the table for another appropriations fight. But even under that relatively rosy scenario where nothing shuts down and nobody defaults on any payments we’re talking about a protracted months-long period of political crisis that could badly hurt consumer confidence and other areas of the economy.