Yes, it can slow the economy and wreak temporary havoc on people who rely on government services. But these consequences are nothing alongside the fallout from defaulting on our debt, which will happen if we don’t raise the debt ceiling by mid-October. That’s why Boehner’s inability to persuade conservatives to postpone their Obamacare demands until the debt-ceiling fight is in fact a hugely welcome development. It gives everyone a chance to sober up before we take on the substantially higher-stakes proposition of avoiding a debt default. In fact, if Boehner and the White House had both been a bit more pro-shutdown back in 2011, when this whole B-movie horror flick started, that year’s debt ceiling fight and the sequester may never have happened, and we might not be in the mess we’re in today. A little bit of shutdown, I’d wager, goes a long way.
So to put Scheiber’s argument in different, cruder terms: the Tea Party wing of the GOP simply must have a government-paralyzing tantrum, and it’s better they have it over funding the government than over raising the debt ceiling. Once they blow off their steam, shut down the government, and find a public furious over further Washington dysfunction and inclined to blame it on the GOP, these Tea Party types will be chastised enough that the folks who now pass for the adults in the Republican leadership will be able to resume control. Then everyone shakes it off and gets back to the work of governing.
It doesn’t sound nice, exactly, but it does sound preferable to the all-out anarchy of a government shutdown immediately followed by a debt default. But what I don’t understand is why we believe these Tea Party folks will be more susceptible to reason after a shutdown than they are now? We seem to be putting a lot of faith behind the power of public opinion — yet at the same time it’s well understood that many Republicans only fear a primary challenge from their right, and that top-line public opinion doesn’t sway them.
So what gives? Does Scheiber believe that the public response to a shutdown will be so overwhelmingly negative, and so overwhelmingly directed towards the GOP, that it’ll shift the basic dynamic of the past 3 years of American government? I’d certainly be pleased if that were to occur, but it seems far from certain.