I’ve been taking some serious grief from others in the federal budgeting community because of my now months-old prediction that a government shutdown was on the horizon, so I have to admit that it’s been a little gratifying to see much of the rest of the budget world moving toward that same conclusion this week. As this story by Alexander Bolton from yesterday’s The Hill shows, budgeting luminaries (and good friends) from both sides of the aisle such as Republican Bill Hoagland and Democrat Scott Lilly now seem to be coming to the same conclusion that I reached a while ago: A government shutdown, which up to about a year ago would have been considered a crazy idea given the experience with the last two in 1995 and 1995, is a real possibility.
But while gratifying, Bill’s and Scott’s quotes are actually less instructive than the one from Linda Bilmes, who teaches budgeting at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and led a discussion on the budget during the orientation for newly-elected members of Congress late last year (Full disclosure: I’ve led that discussion several times over the past decade and am not at all bitter about not being invited to do it again this time). Here’s her money quote about what she observed at the orientation:
It was clear there was a group of new members who in my mind were more concerned with making statements than working with their own leadership to solve the nation’s problems,” said Bilmes. “Nothing I’ve seen in the last week changes my mind.
This is only part of the story. As I’ve been saying for a while, the House GOP leadership may have to agree to a shutdown to show the tea party folks that they are willing to do it. They also need to show that the Republican Party will suffer real political pain from everyone but tea party supporters by shutting down the government. As Bill Hoagland implies with his quote, the inability of the House Republican leadership to temper its tea party types last week on the continuing resolution is as strong an indication as you can get that it needs additional leverage over that faction of its caucus and the likely negative political reaction to a shutdown may be the best/only way it can get it.