"Mr. President, do you think that it's going to happen all over again in a few months?" a reporter asked Wednesday night as the president left the podium. Obama paused, turned, and gave a firm "no," smiling.
Where that confidence comes from is completely inexplicable. Completely and utterly unwarranted. Not unique to the president, mind you, but still unwarranted.
It's understandable that congressional Democrats — and everyone, really — should breathe a sigh of relief. The post-vote display of back-slapping on the Senate floor, documented by the Huffington Post, was a little much, the equivalent of going out for pizza after your Little League opponent forfeits, but the exhalations were understandable. It's over. There won't be default. That's good news.
But the next step, the speculation that the Republicans that prompted the shutdown and the Republicans that enabled it will see the error in their ways, is on far shakier ground. New York Times' conservative columnist Ross Douthat seemed optimistic in an essay he posted Wednesday night. "The mentality that drove the shutdown," he wrote, "may have less influence in next year's Beltway negotiations than it did this time around, thanks to the way this has ended for the defunders after John Boehner gave them pretty much all the rope that they'd been asking for." The next word he writes is "but" — but remember, the grass roots are still riled up.
Conservative elder statesman Grover Norquist went a little further (as he has in the past). As Talking Points Memo reports, Norquist suggested that the people behind the shutdown — who he left unnamed — "owe your fellow senators and congressmen a big apology — and your constituents, as well, because nothing they did advanced the cause of repealing or dismantling Obamacare."
Yeah, don't hold your breath. Here's another way of looking at the fallout from the shutdown.
87 GOP Members waking up today realizing that if they stick together they can have a lot of sway over coming legislative battles.— Simon Rosenberg (@SimonWDC) October 17, 2013
A small group of Republican representatives effectively held the government hostage for two weeks. And if they've learned any lesson, it's not likely that the lesson is, "Man, that was a failure." Instead, it's probably: "Huh. We have a lot of power." "I'm not prepared to suggest that this has been a complete loss," Rep. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming told the Times. Or, more directly, Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana told the paper on Wednesday that he'd vote against the compromise bill, though he saw it as an inevitability. "[T]hat will get us into Round 2. See, we’re going to start this all over again."
Fleming wasn't alone in seeing the recent fight as Phase One of Operation Tank Obamacare. One of the shutdown's primary architects, Utah Sen. Mike Lee, who tweeted as much at the time of the Senate vote.
This is not over. We have an obligation to fight for the American people. And I do not intend to let the people down.— Mike Lee (@SenMikeLee) October 17, 2013
And why shouldn't Lee and Fleming feel empowered to fight? Yes, as Josh Green lists at Businessweek, the Republican party and Republican leadership got hammered in the polls. But the person most closely linked to the shutdown, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, saw his poll numbers spike with hard-right conservatives — and even with Republicans on the whole, he ended up in better position than the party's leadership. Plus he raised over a million dollars in the third quarter of the year. These are not disincentives to a repeat performance. "We saw the House of Representatives take a courageous stand, listening to the American people, that everyone in official Washington just weeks earlier said would never happen," Cruz said on Wednesday afternoon, as Raw Story reports. "And that was a remarkable victory, to see the House engage in a profile in courage."
Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador, a prominent conservative, said that he expected to Republicans would be rewarded for their stand, according to MSNBC. "The establishment in Washington may have won this battle, but I think people are going to see that we’re willing to stand up for them," he said. "That’s the story that you’re going to write in November." He could be right. Idaho voters aren't going to boot Labrador for his stance. RedState.com is calling for renewed primary challenges to Republicans who didn't foment the Tea Party rebellion. "Conservatives must advance — ever advancing against the Republicans who have folded in the fight against Obamacare," RedState editor Erick Erickson writes. "We will not win all the fights. But Ted Cruz and Mike Lee show we do not have to win them all. We just need reinforcements." Will the Republican establishment make a similar call to oust its insurgents? No.
"We're ungovernable," Louisiana Rep. Charles Boustany said to The National Journal about his caucus. "There is no doubt in my mind that the last three weeks have made anything achievable in the House more difficult." And with only weeks before the next likely point of contention, that suggests any future budget battles will suffer the same fate, the president's confidence notwithstanding. The threat of a repeat of the shutdown is "a legitimate concern based upon recent history," Sen. Robert Casey told National Journal. "Not much we can do about that other than have them disprove it."
Which misses the lesson of October 2013. They — the far-right Tea Party conservatives in the House — have already proven more than willing to stand in the way of budget resolutions, and have apparently not been chastened by the response. All the proof you need was offered over the last 16 days.