Just a few hours ago, it was still fairly easy to see a way out of this mess. House Republicans had tried to take away health care benefits from millions of Americans, and came up short, but GOP lawmakers still had time to pass the center-right spending bill approved by the Senate and keep the government's lights on.
They just didn't want to. Republicans wanted the first shutdown of the federal government since the GOP-imposed shutdown of 1996, and as the clock struck midnight, that's exactly what they got.
In an 11th-hour pitch that can only be described as hilarious, House Republican leaders suggested they'd agree to a conference committee with Senate Democrats to help resolve their differences. This is amusing, of course, for several reasons, not the least of which is that Senate Dems asked for this in April, and the GOP balked -- 18 times.
With literally less than an hour to go before the government's lights go out, House Speaker John Boehner (R) effectively decided to ask, "So, wanna go to conference now?" Senate Democratic leaders said they'd be happy to negotiate on the budget, just as soon as the House passes a clean spending bill that prevents a shutdown. Boehner didn't even try to cooperate, and in the process, he and his caucus shut down the government.
Ultimately, Senate Dems couldn't take the last-ditch, desperation offer seriously because there was nothing serious about it. Republicans conceded they intended to use the talks to strip American families of their health care benefits, and had no intention of accepting any concessions.
The GOP's shutdown, driven entirely by the party's hysterical opposition to health care access, will not derail the Affordable Care Act. The enrollment period begins immediately, Republican apoplexy notwithstanding.
This incredibly dumb, easily avoided shutdown will have the practical effect of hurting the economy, wasting an enormous amount of taxpayer money, and needlessly punishing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and their communities. Just as important, those who rely on federal services -- including military veterans -- are going to feel the brunt of this, even if congressional Republicans won't.
In terms of what to expect on Capitol Hill, lawmakers know the federal government is now officially closed, but the House is still expected to vote on something between now and 3 a.m. eastern. It won't have any legislative meaning -- the Senate has nothing more to say in response to the House's childish antics, and it will not reconvene until morning.
How long will Republicans keep this shutdown going? We don't know. Why didn't Boehner demonstrate some modicum of leadership and just let the House vote on the center-right Senate bill? We don't know that, either. What do GOP officials hope to accomplish with this fiasco? It's entirely unclear.
Congratulations, Tea Party Republicans. You wanted this shutdown, you demanded this shutdown, and you fought for this shutdown. Now you have it.