Staged Drama In The Final Minutes To Avoid Government Shutdown (For Now)

It is still an open question, however, as to what extent exposure really injures a performer.
– Harry Houdini

The Show was in full force by late Friday night when word came down a mere 22 minutes before the deadline to close the federal government. A deal struck!

For now.

Oooh… drama; as trumped up and distilled as any lame B-Movie script. And as any worthy cliff-hanger, there are heroes and villains, saviors and demons, and of course winners and losers. But alas these titles can and do change by the minute in The District.

After a year of feckless deadline-pushing by Democrats, who held “super majorities” in both houses of the legislature for the past year and Republicans, who used every political machination to filibuster and delay voting until what looked like a landslide November would put them more or less in the game, the sausage makers stepped into the spotlight. And they used that spotlight to provide a preview of the political bloodshed to come; the Main Attraction. Soon the 2012 budget and the looming deadline vote to raise the debt ceiling will have to be answered for, and if this is any indication, it will provide the truest elements of drama.

Until then, the Speaker of the House of Representatives was Friday’s big winner. Just as Nancy Pelosi before him, when she pulled off her party’s cherished health care initiative and thus the most significant Democratic legislative victory in a generation, John Boehner displayed great resolve and just the right amount of backroom conniving to rally and then stay his caucus tide, bringing about the greatest single year budget slashing in the nation’s history. Unlike Pelosi though, Boehner needed Democrat votes, especially in the thorny Senate where the rules change on the fly. Make no mistake, as was the case with the Health Care Reform Law, there awaits fallout, but not without the hedging of a political bet.

Boehner’s gamble to include ridiculously frivolous ideological riders like defunding Public Broadcasting or Planned Parenthood or even reduce funding to monitor greenhouse gas omissions and eliminate the funding to implement health care reform, struck gold. As the long hours of Friday passed and the glare of the spotlight shined on the ideological wish list, the Republicans held firm until their last breath, when all along no one, not the president, the Speaker, or the Senate Majority Leader thought any of it had a hoot in hell of surviving, Boehner played the extreme elements of his party, now popularly referred to as the Tea Party, like a pro, while continuing to spew his fiscal mantra—driving up his cut numbers with a deal already in his back pocket. He would not become another Newt Gingrich and take a PR beating and revive a politically wounded Democratic President.

It was something this space did not think he had in him, as predicted here last week when it looked like all the world he would hand off this kind of con job to his pit bull, Eric Cantor. But Boehner stiffened, and until the final hours, dangled red meat to his social conservative colleagues, and then by conceding to drop the goofy demands at the last minute, appeared to be giving up the store, when just a few billion were handed back to Democrats already having caved on $78 billion from the original 2011 budget proposal.

It may not have been genius, but it was a damned smart and sinister move, and proved Boehner may be a man of his word; this new conservative movement could well actually be about the fiscal and not the usual parade of Terri Schiavo religious whack jobs that crippled the party in 2006, put Barack Obama in the White House, and made media whores out of idiots like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck.

Seven minutes before 11 p.m., the victorious Speaker of the House was the first to address the media with less than a minute of standard Republican hoo-ha about “fighting for budget cuts” and “keeping America working”; but took no questions. Eleven minutes later, Boehner’s nemesis, who was also a de facto political victor in this little sideshow, the President of the United States stood before a window overlooking the Washington monument and began waxing poetic about sacrifices and the largest single annual budget cut ever and then went off the rails with a “Joe Cool manipulated the bi-partisan government victory” spin; yammering on about school kids from some God-forsaken mid-western hamlet, finishing his three minutes with a look ahead to “working together as one.”

By 1:00 am, the White House, suddenly presiding over by far a larger one-time program-slashing than anything Ronald Reagan dared attempt, would leak the contents of secret meetings over two days when Boehner and Vice President Joe Biden engaged in an Irish stand-off, both threatening to paint the other as a raving lunatic to the press if the government were to shut down, to which the story goes Boehner admitted to his fancy two-step and had to head back to placate the Tea Party just in time to save face.

Ah, but then the losers first had to take to the podium at 11:10 p.m., when Senate Majority Leader and poster boy for the mass Stimulus and Health Care moves of 2009, Harry Reid stood in the Capitol chamber and with the hoarse whisper of a broken man spoke of a “grueling process” to hack $40 billion from the government coffers in two months as if it came straight from his bank account, but in reality was a spit in the bucket of the trillions in the hole this government has dug over the past 11 years when a surplus was blown up by supposed conservative Republicans and a President who not only refused to veto one spending bill but signed onto an unfunded tax relief, ran two wars and bloated Medicare on the Chinese jiao.

Four minutes later, Mitch McConnell, who was all-but ignored in this process, stood at his own podium across from Reid and began waving the white flag of “avoiding the repeat of history,” before wrapping up his dreary two minutes by waiting for the thud that was once the Gingrich for President 2012 campaign. His terrible failures of 1995 have finally finished him. There are new legislators in town, Newt, who can get the dirty job done and still look like Yankee Doodle Dandies.

At 11:18 p.m., 42 minutes before the dreaded deadline, the reviews for The Show were in: It is a summer blockbuster, passing its script through the United States Senate and then rushed back to the House for an after-midnight vote and then quickly on to the chief executive’s desk.

A $39 billion cut to the trillions tumbling into infinity, and hardly a burp from Wall Street or a whisper on Main Street. It was, in the end, just an Opening Act, but what an act! By 1:15 a.m. Saturday morning, ultra-right congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was on Fox News decrying Boehner as a gutless appeaser and leftist congressman Anthony Weiner was whining about Harry Reid and the President selling out.

Coming soon: Act II: This time it’s personal.

James Campion is the Managing Editor of The Reality Check News & Information Desk and the author of Deep Tank Jersey, Fear No Art, Trailing Jesus and Midnight For Cinderella.

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