Senate Passage of Government Funding Bill Is Probably Bad News

Ted Cruz prays with members of the Christian Defense Coalition outside the White House on Friday.

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The good news for America is that the Senate just invoked cloture on a bill that will keep the government funded and won’t repeal Obamacare. Which is to say that enough Republicans broke with Ted Cruz to shut down his insane effort to force the country into a government shutdown over his bitterness that Mitt Romney lost the 2012 election.

The bad news is that if the government doesn’t shut down, the alternative may be worse.

There are now basically three options facing House Speaker John Boehner. One is to do the right thing, fund the government and raise the debt ceiling, relying on Democratic votes if necessary. That seems to be out of the question. Another option is to stand and fight on Ted Cruz’s terms. That means the government will shut down on Oct. 1, and we’ll have a couple of weeks in which to see if the absence of government services causes the conservative position to collapse, forcing them to cave on both government funding and the debt ceiling. The third and worst option is to strong-arm his caucus into giving Obama what he wants on avoiding a government shutdown by promising to demand the entire Mitt Romney economic policy agenda as the price for raising the debt ceiling.

If Boehner makes that promise, the stage is set for a serious political and constitutional crisis. There’s just no way Obama can surrender to that demand. And the fact that the demand can be made at all underscores why in fact Obama can’t surrender anything to Boehner in exchange for the debt ceiling. An increase in the debt ceiling isn’t something Obama “wants” and ought to consider trading for other stuff. It’s simply the case that the debt ceiling must go up to avert a catastrophe. Boehner himself acknowledges that it must go up. You bargain over things you disagree about, not over things you both think are necessary.

Read more of Slate’s coverage of the debt ceiling fight.