If the only thing keeping Congress from a clean funding bill was whether or not to vote Sen. Ted Cruz off the island, the government shutdown would have ended yesterday. The junior senator from Texas, widely perceived as the ringleader of the shutdown strategy, has faced increasingly vitriolic criticisms from colleagues who feel that he's led them into a government shutdown without a way to end it. Now the GOP is desperate for any strategy that would allow them to save face. According to Rep. Stutzman (R.-Ind.), "We have to get something out of this. And I don't even know what that is."
Many Senate Republicans, who were themselves the targets of Sen. Cruz's own criticisms when he was revving up support for the shutdown, are now privately scoffing at the strategy's inability to deliver on its sole promise of defunding Obamacare. Despite the shutdown, health exchanges went online this week, and, despite the conservative media's attempts to paint them as glitch-ridden failures, the 2014 elections will have to be about something else. Lacking their original shutdown strategy (but still very much left with a shutdown), the GOP is now scrambling for any new goal to justify the impasse.
The emerging GOP strategy is to use shutdown pressure to demand concessions on tax and entitlement reform. According to Rep. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), "This is not just about Obamacare anymore." Paramount to that strategy is keeping Republicans in Congress voting in line, and this is why House leadership can't budge on the shutdown. According to one Republican source, "Boehner could not pass a [budget bill] with mostly Democratic support now and then have the chance of holding Republicans on the debt ceiling." In other words, the government is likely to stay shut down until mid-October.
Regardless of whatever the GOP ends up demanding, they will insist on major concessions from Democrats. The GOP has backed itself into a strategic corner, where defeat would catastrophic for the party. With these stakes, much depends on the GOP's negotiating position, which up until now has been controlled by the Tea Party. Let's hope that Republican senators' disdain for Ted Cruz is a sign that Congressional GOP leadership is beginning to reassert itself.