Odds of Shutdown-Avoiding and CR Deals? Pretty Good. Odds Sequestration is Resolved? Not So Much.

Will House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, heed a call that came from leading conservatives late Monday to essentially ensure a government shutdown? (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There suddenly is a whole lot of posturing going on in Washington. That’s not unique for America’s political capital; it is somewhat unique for the week before Congress adjourns for its annual August recess.

Lawmakers soon will scatter across America for fundraisers, town hall meetings, pancake breakfasts, picnics, luncheons, civic organization dinners, BBQs, minor-league baseball games, fundraisers, and more fundraisers.

But first, the White House, House Republican leaders and now powerful GOP lobbying groups are positioning themselves for what is shaping up to be a nasty fight over the nation’s borrowing limit and funding the federal government that could lead to a government shutdown. The fight also could derail efforts to void the defense sequestration cuts.

The Washington Post reported last Friday that White House officials are mulling a budget strategy that includes a government shutdown option.

House Speaker John Boehner, in a Friday statement, said President Obama should work with the GOP to find more spending cuts — and only spending cuts. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet The Press” program that lawmakers should return in September pass a “debt limit that can reach bipartisan consensus in the Congress and that the president can sign into law.”

That is Washington-speak for what Democrats call a “balanced approach,” meaning a bill that includes spending cuts, tax hikes on the wealthy and domestic program reforms. Lew said Obama will not sign any budget bill that guts domestic programs to pay for defense spending; the GOP has a big problem with that.

The political arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation — and nearly 50 prominent Republican and tea party officials — weighed in on Monday evening, urging House leaders to include language in a likely government-wide funding measure that would de-fund Obama’s sweeping healthcare law.

“We the undersigned organizations and individuals urge House Republicans to include language fully de-funding Obamacare when they consider their upcoming legislation to fund the government for Fiscal Year 2014.

“Despite these setbacks, the ultimate “power of the purse” still resides in the House, and the House will soon act to fund the government. In doing so, the House should include language ensuring that no more taxpayer dollars can be used to implement Obamacare.”

The White House will have a big problem with that.

Let’s review: The White House reportedly is okay with a government shutdown. House Republicans are sticking by their demands for budget bills that include nothing but federal spending cuts. And influential conservatives outside government want House GOP leaders to include in their coming continuing resolution language that would leave the president no choice but to veto a CR.

If one only examines all the rhetoric, a federal shutdown seems unavoidable. But let’s insert the context that all parties involved have something to lose if that occurs, and the historical lesson that these fights generally are resolved — even if in the eleventh hour.

Intercepts will set the opening odds of a government shutdown at 25 to 1 (slightly better than some have pegged the Baltimore Ravens’ odds of again reaching the Super Bowl).

The most likely scenario, based on the track record of Obama and the current congressional leaders, is some kind of compromise debt limit bill and 2014 CR — both likely agreed to and signed at the last minute. Color your correspondent very confident that, in this political environment, that’s the only likely outcome.

That means I’ll put last-minute deals on the debt-ceiling and a government-funding measure — but no shutdown — at 7-to-1 (the same odds, according to people who study such things, as the Denver Broncos have of reaching Super Bowl XLVIII).

All of this will affect whether Washington can do something all parties say they want to do: Turn off the defense sequestration cuts that now are slated to slash by around another $450 billion from planned Pentagon spending over the next nine years. What is your correspondents odds of that happening this year?

It’s still, as odd as this is to write, too soon to say exactly. A lot could happen between September and late December. But it doesn’t look good. The odds of a “grand bargain” springing suddenly from Washington’s barren political soil is somewhere between 65-to-1 (the Carolina Panthers’ chances of making the big game) and 125-to-1 (the odds of the Cleveland Browns making it). How the debt-ceiling fight plays out will likely determine the odds that sequestration is resolved this year.

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett