The coming "Let's make a deal" shutdown moment

Over at NRO, Robert Costa has spent the last 48 hours digging in to all his sources among Republicans on the hill and is pretty sure that there’s a deal coming, despite media celebrations to the contrary. From the sounds of it, it’s not a total capitulation to the White House, but there’s also no chance of some sort of grand bargain which either side can list on their resume. Instead, if the Shutdown Beast is to be slain, it won’t be with one massive coup de grace, but rather a death of a thousand cuts.

It hasn’t been announced, and you won’t hear about it today, but the final volley of the fiscal impasse, at least for House Republicans, is already being brokered. And according to my top sources — both members and senior aides — it won’t end with a clean CR, or with a sprawling, 2011-style budget agreement. It’ll end with an offer — a relatively modest mid-October offer that concurrently connects a debt-limit extension, government funding, and a small, but strategically designed menu of conservative demands…

But details are floating to the surface as the leadership reaches out to internal power brokers about what’s within the realm of the possible. What I’m hearing: There will be a “mechanism” for revenue-neutral tax reform, ushered by Ryan and Michigan’s Dave Camp, that will encourage deeper congressional talks in the coming year. There will be entitlement-reform proposals, most likely chained CPI and means testing Medicare; there will also be some health-care provisions, such as a repeal of the medical-device tax, which has bipartisan support in both chambers. Boehner, sources say, is expected to go as far as he can with his offer. Anything too small will earn conservative ire; anything too big will turn off Democrats.

If you tried to string all of that together into one package, it would smack of a “grand bargain” and it would be far too easy to find small coalitions of offended parties who would band together to shoot it down. So it looks like we’ll be back to the table with another series of piecemeal bills, turning on the government one slice at a time while extracting some form of concession – no matter how minor it may appear – in exchange for each. In exchange, they would dangle some goodies in front of the Democrats, including backing off on a few pieces of sequestration. Assuming it works, you eventually wind up with so little of the government shut down that it’s not worth fighting over any more and life goes on.

Among the list of demands, the most intriguing one is certainly the idea of gaining some traction on tax reform, which you normally only hear about at election time. (After which, it’s promptly forgotten until the next election.) But is there any meat on that bone? A “mechanism” for revenue-neutral tax reform that will encourage deeper congressional talks next year? That sounds like the language of people who want to get off the hook by talking about something really popular without having to put their name to any serious changes. But who knows? Perhaps I’m just cynical.

But the keystone of this entire plan seems to rely on something which is none too certain. Up until this point, Obama has drawn a red line in the sand over any negotiating or agreeing to any partial funding bills, insisting that it’s going to be all or nothing and no deals will be made. Getting the Democrats to the table on this sort of thing would require the President completely retreating from that very publicly stated red line and agreeing to a totally different…

Hey, maybe this could work after all.

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