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The three most important takeaways from the shutdown's end

October 17, 2013|By Michael Hiltzik
  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). One of the victors?
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco). One of the victors? (Drew Angerer / AFP Getty )

One seldom acknowledged fact about the "fog of war" is that it can persist long after the final battle is over. That's true of the battle that ended the shutdown/debt ceiling war.

So because they may still be obscured, here is a quick rundown of the three most important things to remember about the battle and the Republican surrender.

1. The GOP and the tea party actually have achieved their most important long-term goal. That battle is over the spending cuts known as the sequester, the noxious outcome of the last debt-ceiling battle, in 2011. We've stressed this numerous times, including here and here. In August, before the shutdown cabaret even began, we reported on the damage already done by the sequester. The Congressional Budget Office has more.

It's true that the shutdown deal is timed to give Democrats and Republicans a chance to lift the sequester before its next round, even more damaging, is triggered in January. But that's a work in progress.

2. The one near-term GOP "victory" in the shutdown deal is utterly meaningless. That victory is the purported tightening of the "income verification" process for applicants for Obamacare subsidies. As we reported Wednesday, this fits the definition of a nothingburger with special sauce. 

The process is already very tight, requiring that applicants' stated income levels be checked against IRS and Social Security records. The idea that the rules were "significantly scaled back" and are now being restored is a myth. Nevertheless the idea that the GOP got something real here continues to be accepted by journalists who should know better, like Salon's Joan Walsh

In fact, the "income verification" provision written into the shutdown deal is less than nothing -- it just requires the secretary of Health and Human Services to report by Jan. 1 on what the agency is already doing to validate applications -- not to do anything more.

3. The debt ceiling is dead as a political weapon. Yes, a new debt ceiling deadline is set for February. But if anything is plain from the outcome this time around, it's that the GOP has no stomach for playing this game again. A majority of Congressional Republicans were always against it, as Wednesday's vote shows. Given the disaster the strategy caused to the party's national standing and the nonexistent gains it yielded, the chance the caucus will try it again is nil. Some hardliners on the right wing may be thirsting for a repeat, but the rest won't be bamboozled again.

Reach me at @hiltzikm on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ or by email.

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