Speaker John Boehner and House Republicans should have taken yes for an answer.
Instead, they've deeply damaged their political brand and bucked up a previously-desultory Democratic opposition.
Before the federal government shutdown began Oct. 1, and weeks ahead of the Oct. 17 date pegged by the Treasury Department for potential debt default, House Republicans had already extracted serious budget concessions for their Democratic rivals. President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats had agreed to continue funding the government at the $986 billion level that expired Sept. 30.
That's the sequester level - meaning significantly lower budget line that was part of the New Year's "Fiscal cliff" deal. It's a spending level Democrats never liked but were willing to continue with in order to stave off a shutdown - and the exponentially worse calamity of debt default.
But a relatively small band of congressional Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, insisted that funding of the Affordable Care Act - Obamacare - be included in any deal. This was a fool's errand from the start. President Obama was never going to allow his signature domestic achievement to be stripped away through routine budget and debt ceiling negotiations - or any other way, for that matter.
All the standoff has earned Republicans is seriously plummeting poll numbers. An oft-cited Wall Street Journal-NBC News survey found Americans have come to hold a harshly negative view of the Republican Party during the government shutdown, giving the GOP a far larger share of the blame for a political brawl that many believe is harming the economy. By a 22-point margin (53 percent to 31 percent), the public blamed the Republican Party more for the shutdown than President Barack Obama - a wider margin of blame for the GOP than the party received during the poll during the last shutdown in 1995-96.
And the fiscal crisis has stiffened the spines of Senate Democrats. The Washington Post reported Sunday that President Obama and congressional Democratic leaders, in their ongoing showdown with Republicans, now have a goal beyond protecting the health care law, reopening the government and preventing the first-ever default on the nation's debt.
They are gambling that if they can hang together and remain tough to the end, they stand a chance to break a dangerous cycle that has taken hold in Washington - one of legislating through brinkmanship, which has brought the government and the financial system to the edge of disaster at least four times over the past three years.It's even emboldened Senate Democrats to go on the offense, trying to for repeal on at least some sequester cuts. And that leaves Speaker Boehner with a deeply unpalatable choice - throw the tea party overboard or risk being held responsible for the nation's first-ever debt default, and the cataclysmic economic effects that could follow. Liberal Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent put it this way:
It now seems plainly obvious that neither Tea Party Republicans on one side, nor Obama and Senate Dems on the other, will give any ground on what they view as non-negotiable. No deal that is even marginally acceptable to both of those groups is feasible. Democrats are not capitulating to Tea Party demands; it just isn't happening. By definition, then, there is only one way out of the crisis: Through an alliance of non-Tea Party Republicans (who have already shown a willingness to reopen the government) and Democrats. This would require House GOP leaders to allow a vote on something that is unacceptable to Tea Party conservatives, which will make them really, really angry, and to suffer the consequences.
This is precisely where things stood almost two weeks ago. On the eve of the Oct. 1 shutdown, House Republicans had a chance to take a short-term hit for their potential long-term gain. A YouTube clip going viral Sunday shows House floor debate from the evening of Sept. 30 in which Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the top Budget Committee Democrat, tries a procedural maneuver to force a bill on a "clean" CR. As Van Hollen describes the scene online:
Late in the evening on September 30, 2013, the House Rules Committee Republicans changed the Rules of the House so that the ONLY Member allowed to call up the Senate's clean CR for a vote was Majority Leader Eric Cantor or his designee - all but guaranteeing the government would shut down a few hours later and would stay shut down. Previously, any Member would have had the right to bring the CR up for a vote. Democracy has been suspended in the House of Representatives.
During those pre-shutdown hours House Republicans had their maximum leverage. They could have cited the clean CR at sequester levels as a victory for conservative principles and a good step toward cutting Washington spending and slashing deficits. But by pushing for more - beyond what their limited leverage would yield - they're likely to end of up with less.