Republicans Shut Down the Government for Nothing

After two weeks of closed government and a debt-limit freakout, a deal is on the horizon—and the GOP has little to show for the crisis caused by its demands.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

With a deal to reopen the government apparently imminent Wednesday, it's worth taking stock of what it was all for—the two and a half weeks without a fully functioning federal government, the nonstop chaos on Capitol Hill, the tiptoeing to the brink of default.

For Republicans, it was basically for nothing.

The GOP will actually get less out of the final deal being brokered than the party would have gotten had House conservatives never staged their revolt on Obamacare. In fact, the drama is likely to end with Republicans ceding policy concessions to Democrats.

Let's review: Had the House passed the "clean" continuing resolution it was offered on September 30, the government would have remained open only until November 15, at the reduced funding levels determined by the "sequestration" cuts imposed by the 2011 debt-limit deal. Republicans still would have had the debt-ceiling deadline Thursday, plus another budget fight on the horizon a month later, as perceived points of leverage. (Democrats insist this leverage is illusory as the White House would refuse to negotiate, but to Republicans, that's what these deadlines are: valuable bargaining chips.)

Instead, the House is poised to pass a measure that funds the government through January 15 and lifts the debt ceiling until February 7—taking the heat off Congress for months and eliminating three pressure points (the September 30 funding expiration, the October 17 debt-ceiling target, and the hypothetical November 15 funding expiration) in one go. The proposed deal negotiated by Senate leaders also would force the two houses to convene a budget committee, something Democrats have been demanding since the Senate passed a budget in March—and conservative Republicans have repeatedly blocked, for fear that any compromise negotiated between the two houses would mean selling out their principles.

The "concession" extracted by the GOP in the deal, the sole change to the health-care law, is purely cosmetic: a reinstatement of the requirement that people seeking subsidies under the Affordable Care Act furnish proof that they qualify. That requirement was in the original law, but the administration delayed it when implementation hit snags in July.

Obamacare will not be repealed. Obamacare will not be defunded. Obamacare will not be delayed. The individual mandate will not be delayed. The medical-device tax will not be repealed. The health-insurance subsidies given to members of Congress and their staffs will not be taken away. 

Democrats will get the government funded at levels they (grudgingly) sought in the first place, for longer than they originally sought, and without the looming threat of default.

So what did Republicans get for shutting down the government for 17 days? Their poll numbers tanked. Their gubernatorial candidate in Virginia appears headed for defeat in next month's election. The business community is rethinking its support. Veterans and the elderly are ticked off. And any leverage they ever had to push their goals of reducing the size of government and chipping away at health-care reform is gone.

All in all, it's been a worthwhile exercise for the GOP. 

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Molly Ball is a staff writer covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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