Is a Government Shutdown Looming, Really?

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Taegan Goddard, the creator of CQ Roll Call's Political Wire, discussed the possibility that the budget dispute will result in a shutown of government services.

Over the past couple of weeks, Wisconsin unions and their supporters have been fighting against Governor Walker's budget proposals, and in Washington, Democrats and Republicans are arguing over the budget too. By this Friday, Congress needs to pass a continuing resolution (CR) to keep money flowing during the current fiscal year. Without it, the federal government could shut down.

According to Taegan Goddard, a shutdown would mostly cause "inconveniences" for folks — checks may arrive late, passport applications may slow down— but there's never been a shutdown that's lasted long enough to really know what could happen, he said.

But it may be avoided altogether. House Republicans have offered a short-term compromise — $4 billion in cuts in exchange for a two week budget extension. Goddard said this hasn't averted the potential of a shutdown, but it will at least cause a delay.

What you have is a situation politically where both sides have really blinked here. You've got the Democrats agreeing to the $4 billion in cuts that the Republicans have proposed, but actually when you look at the numbers, the Republicans have essentially agreed to cuts that President Obama already proposed in his budget...several weeks ago, so you've got a situation where both sides are kind of posturing...There's a lot of weariness over who might be blamed politically for a government shutdown.

Despite the weariness, House Speaker Boehner was cool and collected as he spoke to the National Religious Broadcasters on Sunday about the budget and the potential of a shutdown:

They won't eat the whole loaf at one time, we'll make them eat it one slice at a time. The American people want government to stay open, but they want it to spend less money and we don't need to shut down the government to accomplish that. we just need to do what the American people are asking of us.

Even though both sides have "blinked" in the short term, Goddard said, he said, Boehner's right — Republicans have won the debate on cutting spending.

Really it's just a matter of how much spending are we going to cut. The onus now is on Democrats to come up with that number and to figure out what is acceptable. So I think that this initial deal is just more indication that that first slice that has been agreed to...and the Republicans do have this edge.

There's something else driving this edge, Goddard said.

There are a handful of moderate Democrats in the Senate who are up for reelection in 2012 and who really, in many ways, side with the idea that government spending has run out of control and that the deficit is an increasing problem and that their reelection chances are hinged to showing some progress on that.

But either way, he said these budget battles (including the one in Wisconsin) are all political positioning.

In reality, the entire showdown that we're seeing in Wisconsin and that we're seeing to a lesser degree in other states, or at least a less visible degree in other states, this is all about politics. This is all about who has the upper hand in these elections, and certainly in the elections coming up in 2012. If Republicans looked back at the 2010 elections, as well as they did across the country, they believe that there are six to eight governorships they should have won and the reason they didn't win those was that the unions are very effective at spending for Democrats and getting out the vote for Democrats and so this is an opportunity, at least politically, for Republicans to try to hurt the Democrats and...it awakens Democrats, recognizing that this is a constituency they need to support and maintain.

And it's the same thing we're seeing in Washington, Goddard said.

When you look at the federal level we're talking about really a minor, minor slice of the budget here. This is not about the federal budget deficit. This is about political posturing as we head into 2012.