Here we are once again with House Republicans threatening to shut down the government in twelve days, and the entire media and pundit class (on both sides) insisting that it’s “inevitable” and has about a 100% chance of happening. Here’s the kicker: we just watched this same movie less than six months ago – and we already know how that one ended.
Back in early to mid 2023, House Republicans publicly threatened to shutdown the government. But at no point did they ever have the votes for a shutdown. Such a move would likely play poorly with voters, and the most vulnerable House Republicans in “toss up” races would likely lose their seats over it – so those House Republicans were never on board with a shutdown.
What ended up happening was what always happens when there aren’t enough votes for something: the other side wins. The Biden White House negotiated with those House Republicans who were worried about losing their seats over a shutdown, and an agreement was reached. At that point Kevin McCarthy had little choice but to go along with that agreement, or else he would have made himself completely irrelevant as Speaker.
The far right House Republicans, who wanted a shutdown, then loudly talked about removing McCarthy. They even humiliated him by arbitrarily voting down the next unrelated thing he brought to the floor. But they didn’t actually try to remove him. That was probably because they knew that if they ousted him, the most likely outcome would be no Speaker, or a Democratic Speaker – which would be even worse for far right House Republicans than McCarthy as Speaker.
Back on May 3rd of this year, I wrote that “This budget battle feels like it’s going to end up being a whole lot of nothing.” I further predicted that President Biden would end up getting 90% of what he wanted. Sure enough, by the end of that same month, that’s exactly what had played out. It wasn’t a matter of me being Nostradamus. It’s just that there’s a way things work.
Now we find ourselves in the exact same situation. It’s a remake of the movie, and for all we know, there’s a small chance it’ll end up having a different outcome than the original. But up to this point, it’s playing out exactly like the original movie. That includes the part where the entire media and pundit class is spending the entire time chasing ratings by insisting that a shutdown has a 100% chance of happening.
The kicker is pretty much the entire media and pundit class is pretending like the early-mid 2023 shutdown threat never happened. They’re acting as if this is all new, as if we didn’t all recently watch this movie. That’s because if they remind audiences of the previous “government shutdown” threat, audiences may suddenly remember that it ended with no shutdown. Then audiences might put it together that if it was all a bluff last time, it might all be a bluff this time. Then they’ll spend the next twelve days watching sports, instead of staring in fear at political news.
Based on how things went last time, and based on how things are heading this time, there’s no way that there’s more than about a 30% chance of a shutdown. There simply aren’t the votes for a shutdown at present. When Biden swooped in and cut a deal last time with the House Republicans who didn’t want a shutdown, that wasn’t some surprise twist ending. It was simply how things work. It’s where we’re likely headed again.
Meanwhile, we all need to learn to stop doing free publicity for the Republicans. They desperately want all these headlines about how a government shutdown is inevitable, because it allows them to look like they’re 1) powerful and 2) doing something. If they can get two weeks’ worth of headlines about a shutdown definitely happening, then they’ll have gotten what they came for – even if there’s no shutdown. That’s what happened last time. The media screamed so loudly in early-mid 2023 about how a shutdown was definitely going to happen, much of the public misremembers it as a shutdown having happened.
If House Republicans want the narrative to be that there’s 100% chance of a shutdown happening, then it’s obvious that we should not let them have this narrative. We should be very loudly pointing out that they obviously don’t currently have the votes, that they didn’t have the votes last time, and that they are a bunch of inept idiots who can’t so much as come together to tie their own shoelaces without falling down.
If you’re going around talking about how a shutdown is inevitable just so you can bash House Republicans over it, you’re doing House Republicans a favor. They don’t care that you’re bashing them. They care very much that you’re helping them sell the narrative that a shutdown is going to happen no matter what. They don’t have the votes for a shutdown. But if you help them sell a shutdown as being inevitable, who knows, public opinion might shift a bit and allow them to have the votes.
In any case, I know that in spite of everything I’ve laid out here, some of you are going to spend the next twelve days staring at political news and fretting over how a shutdown is “inevitable.” I’m going to spend the next twelve days tuning it out. And at the end of it all, the shutdown will still have the same 30% odds of happening. You can’t improve your side’s odds by staring at your screen. But you can protect your sanity by learning to tune out those folks in the media who always try to convince you that the worst case scenario always has a 100% chance of happening.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report