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On Saving Face

My ex-girlfriend and I had an on-and-off relationship. Many of our friends had grown quite impatient with the constant indecision. When she asked me to move in with her, of course, those close to us were concerned. Those concerns made sense, and soon she started having second thoughts. Of course, to back out would mean that all of those concerned loved ones would blame and vilify her. When she first brought her uncertainty to my attention, I wanted the decision to be based on the issue at hand and not on how it would be perceived, and so I told her that if she backed out now I would tell people that it was a mutual decision that we rushed into things; I’d help her save face. (The end of this story isn’t necessary)

The more I read about the government shutdown, past shutdowns, and past congressional deal making, the more apparent it is to me that had this been averted before the crisis, no concessions would have been needed. But as things have now gone to this greater level, outside perceptions are going to matter a great deal. This sentiment has been well-documented by Ezra Klein of the Washington Post the past two days, who passed along this quote from Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Indiana) “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” If the Republicans are going to end this–even those who want to end it–there is going to have to be something that helps them save face in the public perception. Over the pat few days, I’ve been trying to decide what that might be.

We Did Everything We Could

One method for House Leadership to save face is to simply lose the fight. Although only 19-23 Republican House members have publicly stated that they would likely back a clean continuing resolution (CR) as was passed by the Senate, the estimates for its support behind closed doors are much higher. The National Review’s Robert Costa estimated that there are “potentially more than 100” Republican House members who would back a clean CR. Rep. Peter King guessed that “if you had a secret ballot, 180 would vote for a clean CR.” King is also among the numerous moderate Republicans contingency planning for a revolt against House leadership.

Many members, however, are worried about their home districts and pressure from the right. For this reason, I think that of the 100-180 that support re-opening the government without concessions, those in the safest reelection districts should be identified. Behind closed doors, Boehner could curry votes to end the shutdown, while protecting his vulnerable members and publicly opposing the move. As long as they have enough votes to pass the bill that way (they have enough to pass right now, but not enough to necessarily pull off the plotted revolt), then let the others vote against it, for political cover. This way, individual members get some cover. Leadership gets cover with the right wing by saying “we did everything we could, but we just didn’t have the votes,” and the government opens. Procedurally, this seems the most difficult and complex. It’s also the least likely.

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