The XX Factor

Is Victory Worth a Shutdown?

Amanda , Jess , I think there are only two possible ways to look at this “federal shutdown” battle: Either a) both sides are holding on until the last possible moment, and a last-minute deal is inevitable or b) neither side really believes a shutdown, of what they’re refusing to call non-essential federal services this time around, matters. After all, the bugs of a shutdown were worked out back in 1995 and 1996. The nation will continue to be protected, the planes will still fly, the economy will still function, and the pandas at the National Zoo will still be fed. The rest of us can (and should) worry about the employees of the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park , but both the Democrats and Republicans in D.C. may just think it’s worth it for those folks to sit out of the economy for a while.

As for the political ramifications of having the public discover that our elected officials can’t even come to an agreement over, as Amanda said, who gets the change from under the sofa cushions -I think we all already know that. Do we really even expect them to agree? We shouldn’t kid ourselves that this is about either .3 percent of the budget or the culture wars. Yes, it’s playing out over policy provisions, but the angry voters of 2010 who put freshman Tea Partiers in office weren’t culture warriors. Ironically, if the Democrats cave in on these harsh restrictions to women’s reproductive health services, it will be at a moment when women’s reproductive health (or the abortion issue) isn’t even really the most important thing on the minds of most Republican voters or lawmakers. If this were really about abortion or family planning, the Republicans would be trumpeting their fierce determination to protect life. They’re not. They’re keeping the focus squarely on the appearance of line-item budget issues, not necessarily because they were elected to bring about fiscal reform, but because Republican voters tend to be savvier than Democratic voters in at least one way: They know that money is power, and power is what matters. Whoever wins this time has serious momentum when we hit the federal debt ceiling this spring and in budget debates next year.

I have to respectfully disagree that the budget debate is stuck over ideological disagreements about abortion and the environment. This is far uglier than that. The Democrats are at a disadvantage, because they’re still debating issues, while the Republicans can please their constituencies with a victory on any of the remaining points. They’re still in there fighting for one simple reason: because they’re determined to win .