House pushes back shutdown deadline, but threat still looms

HOUSE PUSHES BACK SHUTDOWN DEADLINE, BUT THREAT STILL LOOMS…. The House easily approved a temporary budget extension yesterday afternoon, passing a compromise measure worked out late last week, and likely helping avert a government shutdown this week. But for those thinking it makes an eventual shutdown less likely, there’s reason to believe that’s backwards.

Yesterday’s vote wasn’t close — the House voted 335 to 91 to pass $4 billion in cuts over two weeks. Most House Dems and all but six House Republicans voted to approve the compromise, shaped last week when GOP leaders switched gears and targeted $4 billion in spending Democrats wanted to cut anyway. It was a much-needed win for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who faced an 11th-hour revolt, but who managed to keep nearly all of his caucus united.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where it’s likely to be approved this morning with bipartisan support. President Obama will sign the deal long before Friday at midnight.

The new deadline to avert a shutdown will be March 18, two weeks from Friday, ostensibly giving policymakers time to negotiate some other compromise to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year.

It’s tempting to think this week’s success on a temporary extension could help generate some momentum. After all, Dems and Republicans got together, showed some flexibility, moved from their original position, and reached a compromise. If they can do it once, they can do it again, right?

Don’t count on it. In fact, I’d argue a shutdown is slightly more likely now, not less. As Jon Chait noted the other day:

Republicans are demanding domestic discretionary spending cuts at an annualized rate of $100 billion. They have been willing to keep spending going temporarily only as long as it maintains that annualized rate, breaking the past practice of keeping the government going at status quo levels while negotiations are worked out. But the Republicans’ latest offer simply front-loads all the spending cuts Democrats find acceptable. After this two-week extension passes, reaching a mutually acceptable deal will get all the more difficult.

Right. For the GOP, what matters is the number, not the policy — they wanted $4 billion in cuts, and after borrowing the details from a Democratic proposal, they got them. In the next phase, Republicans will demand roughly $56 billion in cuts, but can’t pull the same trick twice, because Dems don’t have $56 billion in cuts just lying around, waiting to be adopted. On the contrary, Democrats believe, correctly, that cuts of this magnitude would undermine the economy and make unemployment worse.

The agreement approved by the House yesterday was, in the larger context, fairly easy. The next round will be significantly more difficult.