Paul Ryan
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

This ridiculous election season would not be complete without the threat of another government shutdown, and how much money would you be willing to risk betting on Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to find a way to pass a continuing resolution that either the majority of their own caucus would support or that relies (again) on mostly Democratic votes?

Conservatives want to pass a six-month CR that would kick the larger budget fight into next year with a new president and Congress in place. They argue that coming back after the election to complete the annual budget work during a “lame-duck” session will result in a massive legislative package that hikes spending and contains policies sought by special interests.

But Democrats and some moderate Republicans want to finish the annual budget work later this year after the election.

Both sides are digging in for a fight.

“We are not going to agree to a long-term [continuing resolution],” Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters Thursday — his comments coming with the implicit threat of a filibuster against any deal Democrats don’t support. “We are not doing anything into next year. Republicans should be aware of that right now.”

The potential stalemate over spending is a headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) who would like to avoid any whiff of a shutdown threat just weeks before the election.

I’ve written about this a lot over the second Obama term in office, but a real governing party does not need to get most of the votes for its appropriations from the opposition, and a normal opposition party would never agree to this arrangement where they have virtually no say on the spending committees but are expected to get the appropriations passed.

The true congressional majority, the actual power, comes from the coalition (whether bipartisan or otherwise) that can actually pass the spending bills. John Boehner burned himself out by going back to the Democratic well for votes too many times, but he couldn’t keep the government open any other way. But, as I’ve often said, the Democrats don’t like this arrangement anymore than the Freedom Caucus, and they don’t need to bail the Republicans out this time because they’re not worried about protecting a president who is leaving anyway. If Boehner and McConnell want to buck them on the length of the continuing resolution, the Dems are free to refuse to provide any votes and watch the GOP twist in the wind on their inability to unite and govern as a party.

It will be a perfect object lesson on why the Republicans deserve to lose their majorities.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at