I’ve been so distracted by Wisconsin that I haven’t kept an eye on events in Washington. But some things are happening. First, the House disposed of a three-month extension of key provisions of the Patriot Act, which was negotiated down from a year in the Senate earlier this week. So that goes to the President, and a longer debate will be held on the matter in May. This will become the second piece of legislation out of the 112th Congress signed by the President in two months; the other, signed yesterday, named a courthouse for John Roll.

The Senate finished three weeks of work on what they’re calling an aviation jobs bill – actually it’s the FAA Authorization. That bill is working through committee in the House and may get a floor vote soon. It passed the Senate 87-8. Senate Democrats claim it will create or save 280,000 jobs and serves as a “down payment” on a broader jobs agenda.

But here’s what was interesting. The Senate is now off for a week. When they come back it’ll be February 28. The continuing resolution to fund the government expires on March 4. So naturally, the Senate will next take up – a patent reform bill. And in the meantime, Reid is raising the pressure on John Boehner’s statement yesterday that he would not go for a short-term continuing resolution, which means a government shutdown, essentially.

We do not need a government shutdown… a government shutdown would be disastrous for this nation.

That’s unquestionably true, by the way. Contra some Republicans, Social Security checks would not continue to flow. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements would be disrupted.

I talked to Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), who was in the Department of the Interior in 1995 the last time there was a shutdown. “We had to shut down every national park, and every property managed by the Bureau of Land Management,” he said. “The only people working were a few engineers to keep the pumps running. We had 80,000, 85,000 employees all stop. It took us months and months to get us back online and running. Major power plants like the Hoover Dam were seriously affected. It’s the ultimate chaos, and totally irresponsible.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) was a freshman Congresswoman that year, and she too remembers the lack of Social Security checks and veteran’s benefits and the like. “I would hope that Speaker Boehner would do what’s necessary to avoid shutting the government down,” she said. “It’s a disservice to the American people.”  [cont’d.]

The House has been working through amendments to the continuing resolution under an open rule, but let’s be honest. If you have something that restricts EPA regulations or FCC rules on net neutrality, you can get it through. Those rules are open. If you have something that actually helps people in need, like the 99ers, suddenly it’s not so open. And because of the rules of debate, which say that any restoration of spending must be offset by some other cut in spending, setting a floor for cuts but not a ceiling, the actual level of cuts have increased.

The leadership put the brakes on deep additional cuts, but a school reform program important to President Barack Obama would be decimated by a $336 million reallocation of funds approved by 249-179. The National Endowment of the Arts narrowly lost an additional $22.5 million. And in a blow to the president, Democrats failed to restore $131 million for the Securities and Exchange Commission, facing new responsibilities under Wall Street reforms enacted in the last Congress.

Instead, the 270-160 vote and the bill leave the SEC with less money than it had last year before the law was enacted.

The SEC cuts basically take cops off the beat and are a giveaway to the financial industry.

As for what will happen in the next two weeks, it’s completely unclear. Boehner has said there will be no short-term CR; he may offer something with across-the-board cuts or some one-off cuts to cherished accounts. Reid could just offer a short-term CR after he gets the bill that will get a final vote today Saturday. Senate Republicans would then have to decide whether to block it, putting them on the hook for the government shutdown. There’s a ton of brinksmanship going on.

David Dayen

David Dayen