That might seem glib -- but it's also the truth. Once the House-passed bill fails -- and it's virtually impossible to see how it doesn't -- then two things will be true: There will be fewer than 12 hours before the government shuts down, and no one really has any idea where things go from here. As CNN's Manu Raju
reported Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Democratic counterpart, Chuck Schumer, are not talking about any sort of plan B at the moment.
There are several options likely to emerge from the wreckage of the House bill.
The most obvious is a very short-term continuing resolution -- like, less than a week -- that staves off a government shutdown for the weekend and does what Congress does best: buys itself a little more time.
The problem with that "solution" is that it changes next to nothing. Democrats have been largely united in their demands to address the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in any legislation that continues to fund the government. (DACA shelters the undocumented children of immigrants from deportation.) Republicans -- led by President Donald Trump -- are steadfast in refusing to couple DACA and a bill to avoid the shutdown. Moving the goalposts five days makes very, very little difference in that dynamic.
Given that, the most likely outcome at this point is a government shutdown -- the first time that will have happened since 2013.
Some of that is pure logistics. When the House bill fails this morning, the Senate -- and, therefore, the House -- start from scratch. Any new package would not only have its own new set of detractors and doubters but also would face a real time crunch to simply pass it through the House and the Senate before midnight.
And a big chunk of it is politics.
Democrats are not in the compromising mood for a few reasons. One is that this is their one piece of leverage in Washington right now, and they want to use it to protect the DACA recipients. They also believe they will win the politics of the blame game because Republicans control the House, Senate and White House. The average American, Democrats believe, will look at total GOP control of Washington and wonder why Republicans can't keep their own house in order. (I think that logic is largely right
-- based on past shutdowns.) Third, Democrats -- especially those with an eye on running for president in 2020 -- know that it is impossible to be too anti-Trump for their liberal party base. The base wants opposition at all times and in all places -- up to and including a government shutdown.
Republicans -- led by McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan -- are in a more compromising mood, largely because they know that the history of shutdowns doesn't look good for their side if Friday's deadline comes and goes without a deal.
The strategy for Republican congressional leaders is also complicated by Trump, who seems to be veering back and forth on whether a deal should be made and what should be in the deal. The unpredictability of Trump -- as expressed most purely via his Twitter feed -- makes the job of cutting a deal (or even figuring out what should be in the deal) that much more difficult. "I'm looking for something that President Trump supports," McConnell said on Wednesday. "And he's not yet indicated what measure he's willing to sign."
The realities of how Washington works is that with every passing minute, the focus of both parties will turn from finding a solution to avert a shutdown to preparing for the political fallout from a shutdown.
Trump, already, seems to have pivoted. He tweeted Friday
"Government Funding Bill past last night in the House of Representatives. Now Democrats are needed if it is to pass in the Senate - but they want illegal immigration and weak borders. Shutdown coming? We need more Republican victories in 2018!"
The White House's decision to hold a press briefing -- featuring Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney -- on Friday also suggests it has pivoted toward positioning for a likely shutdown.
Momentum matters in last-minute crises like these. At the moment, all the momentum is on the side of a shutdown. And there's no obvious solution -- or much interest in finding a solution -- on either side of the aisle.