Slouching towards a shutdown

SLOUCHING TOWARDS A SHUTDOWN…. At an expected appearance in the White House briefing room, President Obama was asked what “the American people are expecting” from him personally “to make sure that this deal happens” and a government shutdown is avoided.

The president replied, “I think what they’re looking from me is the same thing that they’re looking from Speaker Boehner and Harry Reid and everybody else, and that is, is that we act like grown-ups.”

Alas, maturity appears to be in short supply, at least when it comes to House Republicans.

After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) agreed privately to $33 billion in cuts last week, he has now told Democrats “that $40 billion in cuts could be palatable to House Republicans.” Would the GOP actually shut down the federal government over a $7 billion difference? It’s certainly seems that way.

Despite a series of talks, the static sticking points remain largely unchanged: the $33 billion in cuts GOP leaders were prepared to accept have now been deemed insufficient; Republicans are still demanding culture-war “riders”; and the cuts Democrats have offered have been dismissed as “smoke and mirrors” unless they constitute permanent cuts that shrink government in the future.

So, is there any reason for hope at all? Maybe a little, but only because it’s Wednesday morning, the deadline is Friday night, and policymakers can move fairly quickly if they want to.

After yesterday morning’s fruitless discussion at the White House, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) met privately. Before the meeting, Reid told reporters, “I’m not optimistic. No, I’m not.” By last night, the Senate leader sounded slightly less dire.

A late-day meeting between Boehner and Reid in the speaker’s office produced no breakthroughs, but aides to both lawmakers issued identical statements calling it “a productive discussion” — a significant shift in tone after a week in which the two traded accusations across the Capitol.

Reid closed the Senate chamber Tuesday evening with an optimistic speech describing “good faith” talks that are “not that far apart.”

“The government is not going to shut down — yet. There’s still air in the tire; at least we still have some miles to travel. I hope we have enough air in the tire to get us where we need to go,” he said.

That’s admittedly not much to go on, but for those looking for any shred of optimism, that’s the best I can do.

As for odds, I’d say the likelihood of a shutdown is about 97%. I’d go a little higher, except Boehner seems to realize that it’s Republicans who’ll suffer politically if a compromise isn’t reached — a realization shared by many in his caucus — which should create a slightly stronger incentive to cut a deal in the 11th hour.