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Why the odds of a government shutdown are growing

A shutdown next month is far from certain. But the odds of a shutdown are clearly going up, not down.
A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.
A man runs through a closed National Mall in Washington, DC, Oct 3, 2013.
Funding for the federal government expires at the end of the fiscal year -- Sept. 30 at midnight -- and for months, everyone in Washington assumed the odds of another shutdown were zero. Just this week, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) dismissed the very idea of another standoff as absurd.
House Republicans "will pass a clean" spending bill, Ryan assured the public, and that will be that. Congress will only work 10 days in September, following its five-week summer break, but that should be plenty of time to approve a straightforward measure (called a "continuing resolution") to keep the government's lights on.
And with roughly a month to go, that may yet happen. But just over the last 48 hours, there's new reason to believe the odds of a shutdown are improving.
Indeed, The Atlantic's Molly Ball published an important piece yesterday with two particularly noteworthy paragraphs.

A well-placed House Republican source tells me GOP leadership is increasingly nervous about the potential for a rebellion on the funding bill. The small but influential hard core of House conservatives were emboldened by what happened earlier this month with the border bill: A proposal favored by Speaker John Boehner to address the border crisis with emergency funding and expedited deportations had to be pulled when conservatives, egged on by Senator Ted Cruz, revolted. The legislation the House passed instead had a smaller price tag and would bar President Obama from continuing his policy of allowing some young undocumented immigrants to stay in the U.S. The Democrat-led Senate, meanwhile, did not manage to pass its own version of border legislation at all, so Congress failed to act on the issue. House conservatives like Michele Bachmann and Steve King considered the episode a major victory. Bachmann called it a highlight of her career. Now, Republican leaders are worried that conservatives will not go along with a simple government-funding bill unless it reflects their priorities.

And what priorities might those be? I'm glad you asked.
We don't yet know with certainty what, if anything, President Obama will do on immigration policy through executive action, but there's reason to believe the White House will have a big announcement fairly soon -- well ahead of the Sept. 30 fiscal year deadline.
If the president "goes big," Republicans won't just be enraged; they'll also be looking for ways to use their power to undo whatever Obama does. They won't be able to pass a law, of course, especially with a Democratic majority in the Senate, but GOP lawmakers may very well use the spending bill as leverage, putting anti-immigration provisions in the package and effectively declaring, "Approve this or we shut down the government again."
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), eager to find new ways to impress right-wing activists, strongly hinted in this direction a couple of days ago.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) ... wants Senate Republicans to combat the likely executive action through the budget process when Congress returns in September. "There will have to be some sort of a budget vote or a continuing resolution vote, so I assume there will be some sort of a vote on this," Rubio told Breitbart in an interview published Tuesday. "I'm interested to see what kinds of ideas my colleagues have about using funding mechanisms to address this issue."

Congressman Steve King said [Wednesday] the threat of another government shutdown could be Republicans' leverage to pass border security and immigration legislation this fall. King, R-Kiron, said "all bets are off" on a continuing resolution if President Barack Obama follows through with reported plans to deal with immigration issues without Congress.

To be sure, GOP leaders apparently don't like the idea of forcing this confrontation so close to the midterm elections, but -- and this is key -- we know Republican leaders, especially in the House, don't actually lead. John Boehner is Speaker in Name Only, and even if he urges his own followers to stick to the plan and pass a clean spending bill, rank-and-file members don't much care about the Speaker's guidance. For proof, look no further than recent developments on the border bill.
And as Molly Ball noted, House Republican leaders are already "nervous about the potential for a rebellion," and that's before members come back to Capitol Hill and start chatting with Ted Cruz about what to do next.
I'm not saying a shutdown is going to happen, but it's clearly more likely than it was last week.