Though the media and the Democrats are describing the hours-old partial federal government shutdown as if Republicans can be expected to cave on their positions at any moment, it is far more likely that the shutdown will continue through the debt ceiling negotiations–i.e. mid-October and perhaps beyond.
That is because for both sides, backing down before the debt ceiling issue is resolved will greatly reduce the leverage they have in those talks. Democrats want Republicans feel some pain as the consequence of holding out past a key deadline, while Republicans know that if they concede now, they will concede forever.
Allowing the budget battle to carry over into the debt ceiling debate also carries substantial risks for both sides. Republicans will feel the pressure mount as they are blamed, in typical but inevitable one-sided fashion, for whatever economic damage the shutdown (debatable) and debt debate (real) do to the country.
But Democrats face a risk they have not anticipated. For three years, they have dangled the prospect of a federal shutdown like an anvil above Republicans’ heads, warning them of the political damage that would ensue if the GOP stuck to its platform on cutting spending, reducing the debt, fighting Obamacare and so on.
Now that the weight has dropped, the threats of shutdown and even default lose some of their mystery and power. In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela recalled that one of the chief benefits of early civil rights demonstrations against apartheid was that ordinary people lost their fear of jail.
“The stigma associated with imprisonment had been removed,” he wrote. “This was a significant achievement, for fear of prison is a tremendous hindrance to a liberation struggle.” In the same way, fear of a shutdown was a major obstacle to GOP success in negotiations, from the debt ceiling to the fiscal cliff.
That fear will fade, because whatever the impact of a federal shutdown is, it cannot possibly be as bad as Obama, the Democrats and the media have made it out to be. As with the sequester, which the White House cast as an apocalyptic event, Democrats may find themselves weighted down by their own propaganda.
Republicans, conversely, will have less to fear over time. They have also seen Obama cave on Syria, and have shed some of the awe in which the presidency is usually held. The public hates debt ceiling hikes, and the debate offers the GOP a chance to broaden the argument beyond Obamacare. Settle in for a long fight.