Days or weeks: How long will the shutdown last?

In all likelihood we’re looking at two more weeks — and maybe exactly two weeks, right? NRO and Politico are right that we’re close enough to the debt-ceiling deadline of October 17th that both sides really have no choice but to start negotiating over that now too. It’s nutty for Democrats to make concessions in the name of ending the shutdown, only to have Boehner turn around and demand more as the price of raising the debt ceiling. They’re going to insist that both issues be resolved in the same package, just as Paul Ryan has wanted all along. I’m sure Boehner doesn’t want to relive this nightmare if he doesn’t have to either. If he passes a clean CR now in the name of ending the shutdown, House conservatives may revolt and he’ll be back under the gun instantly in trying to appease them on the debt ceiling. For all the talk about how the debt ceiling gives tea partiers more leverage to extract concessions, it also gives Boehner some leverage with Republican fencesitters to force some sort of last-minute cave if necessary in the name of avoiding a catastrophic default. All of which means, today’s theatrics notwithstanding, we’re almost certainly not going to see the shutdown end soon. It’s in no one’s interest to do so.

Ask yourself this: If Boehner was interested in an immediate compromise, why does he suddenly sound like Ted Cruz?

“We’re in this fight. This is the moment. We all talk about doing something for our kids and our grandkids. If you want to do something for them, now is the time. We have to work together and win this fight,” Boehner told members, according to a Republican in the room.

“I can’t imagine we’re going to resolve” the shutdown before the upcoming fight on raising the debt ceiling, Representative John Campbell of California says.

“Think about it — if they decided they were ready to talk by next week, you’re not going to negotiate the thing overnight. It’s going to take a little time,” he adds.

Sit tight for awhile, let the shutdown play out, and we’ll find out soon enough which side has more leverage. If the public starts to sour on Democrats, great! That means Boehner might be able to squeeze O for some sort of real concession on ObamaCare and/or the budget as Dems beg for mercy. If the public starts to sour on Republicans, great! — for Boehner. That will quiet down House conservatives and give him some cover to make a weak deal with O to end all this, even if he needs some of Pelosi’s caucus to vote with him to do it. (There are, by one House Republican’s estimate, 180-90 members of the caucus willing to support the leadership, although it’s much easier for them to show that support publicly if the grassroots can be convinced that fiscal-deadline brinksmanship is a political loser.)

All of that being so, we’re looking at a last-minute deal around October 16th to either (a) raise the debt ceiling and end the shutdown as part of some comprehensive grand-bargain type policy deal between the two sides or (b) raise the debt ceiling just for a week or two to avert default while negotiations keep going. Reid wouldn’t agree to a short-term CR, but the risk of hitting the ceiling is sufficiently grave that he’d probably have no choice but to agree with that. And judging from the fact that no less than Rand Paul was willing to support a short-term CR to keep the government open while the two sides haggled, there’ll probably be even some stalwart conservatives in Congress who are okay with raising the ceiling a week or two at a time. My assumption over the past week has been that lots of players, from Joe Biden to Mitch McConnell to moderate Republicans in the House, are all lying low because they can afford to: For all the moronic media hand-wringing about Pandacam and the grotesque theater involved in closing off open-air memorials, no one cares much about the shutdown. The debt ceiling is different, and the fact that there are already more than a dozen centrist Republicans on record in favor of a clean CR means there’d almost certainly be enough bipartisan House votes to raise the debt ceiling at the last minute if need be. The only obstacle potentially is Boehner’s willingness to bring a debt-ceiling hike to the floor. Anyone seriously think he won’t if the alternative is global financial chaos, his Cruz-ian rhetoric this week notwithstanding?

Exit question: If this is more of a debt-ceiling negotiation now than a shutdown negotiation, what’s going to be in the deal that ends it? Democrats won’t budge on ObamaCare, I’m sure. But maybe the whole ObamaCare thing is about to be jettisoned in favor of a more traditional budget deal. That too seems to be what Paul Ryan’s wanted all along.

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