Senator Patty Murray and Representative Paul Ryan have drawn the short straws: they chair the Conference Committee that is charged with reaching a budget agreement that will avert a second round of crises over a government shutdown (January 15) or a collision with the debt ceiling (February 7). The entire committee, totaling 29, consists of the entire Senate Budget Committee (12 Democrats and 10 Republicans) and 7 House members (4 Republicans, 3 Democrats).
No one, it is fair to say, is overly optimistic about the outcome. If the Grinch does not steal Christmas, he will be hovering not far away. It is a positive sign that Senator McConnell has expressly ruled out the use of a shutdown, and by implication a threat of default, as bargaining chips. As he put it rather colorfully, “One of my favorite sayings is an old Kentucky saying, ‘There’s no education in the second kick of a mule.’ ” Nevertheless, Ted Cruz and his cohorts in the Senate, and the Tea Party Oozlums in the House appear to have an appetite for mule kicks that is not easily satisfied. Moreover, the Conference Committee itself is hardly lacking in gritty conservatives: 9 of the 14 Republicans, including Ryan, voted against the bill that ended the just concluded crisis. (As noted in a prior blog, however, their votes were “free” in the sense that they were not required for the passage of the bill and may not reflect a tolerance for shutdown or default.) […]