Ted Cruz has stopped talking. That's about the only declarative sentence we're prepared to offer about the week ahead – a chaotic, high-stakes series of deadlines and showdowns that pit competing visions of government against each other. That's even assuming we have a government – or an economy – to talk about by week's end.
Cory Booker made a friend in an unlikely place (with some even more unlikely menu options), while Ted Cruz made some enemies in virtually every place imaginable. Washington residents prepared for a city that might stink more than usual – and no, that's not a reference to the baseball or football franchises. All the while, we're probing new depths of dysfunction, hurtling toward consequences that just about nobody really wants.
Here's a look at some of the stories your ABC News political team will be tracking in the week ahead:
The Senate came off Cruz control, but Ted's talk did nothing to change the basic facts that leave us on a path toward a government shutdown, if not something worse. The Senate is the latest to move, voting Friday to keep funding for the government going beyond Monday at midnight. Senators, though, are including funding for the new Obama health care law. The House, having approved a bill that conditions government funding on starving Obamacare of resources, now has mere hours to respond, while House leaders seek to corral their own restive Republican caucus. At the same time, the House is assembling a grocery basket full of treats it will take in exchange for an increase to the nation's debt ceiling – and the president is saying he won't negotiate over even a morsel. In short, it's a mess, and it's a dumb one to be in, since all the deadlines are set by Washington politicians for Washington politicians, and would be violated by Washington politicians. It's possible lawmakers find a last-moment way to avoid the shutdown, but also more likely than ever that we wind up flirting with a debt default in a few weeks' time. Buckle up.
We get a clearer picture of what all this fuss over Obamacare is about starting Tuesday, with the long-awaited launch of states' new insurance exchanges. It's a central feature of the new health care law – (hypothetically) easy-to-use portals where people who don't have insurance can sign up for their choice of health plans. The plans themselves kick in in January, when it becomes a requirement for virtually all Americans to obtain health care coverage. But we'll learn shortly how easy the Websites (a big federal one, and a few dozen state-designed ones) are to use. Who signs up will be critical: The financing mechanisms in Obamacare are dependent on younger, healthier people to obtain coverage, not just more-expensive-to-care-for older and sicker Americans. The big picture here, beyond the politics, will be that millions of Americans who previously didn't have health insurance will begin to sign up for new plans. (In case you're wondering, this all happens even if the government shuts down, since most of Obamacare is funded through "mandatory" spending programs that aren't impacted by congressional inaction.)
Who's running Washington, anyway? The House speaker is being overrun by the tea party, while the top Senate Republican virtually disappeared as a freshman senator took over his party's agenda and messaging. Democrats in the House are largely bystanders, while the Senate majority leader slowly moved traffic along. As for President Obama, he's not even negotiating with the people who hold the fate of his agenda – and maybe the economy – in their hands. Recent events have laid bare the leadership vacuum in Washington, with new paths to faux power but no one, so far, able to bring order from the chaos. We may be entering a new power era, where small numbers of elected officials can dominate if they're perceived as having sufficiently motivated supporters outside Washington. Power to the people, perhaps, but do the people know what they're doing?
It's been a dizzying few weeks on the world stage – to the brink of war and back with Syria, and to the brink of meetings and back with Iran. Now we'll be spending some quality time with a friend in the region who has a big stake in all the goings-on. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is coming to Washington, and is scheduled to meet with President Obama at the White House Monday. Netanyahu has had a sometimes tense relationship with Obama, and his government has made clear its skepticism over promises from Syria and suggestions from Iran that its leaders are open to a true reset in their relationship with the United States. We'll be watching for any Oval Office lectures.
|TEXAS BLUE DREAMS|
You didn't think Ted Cruz was Texas' only talker, did you? If you did, you forgot about Wendy Davis. Fear not, because you'll be hearing about her again. Next Thursday, Davis pink sneakers will take her into the governor's race. The Democratic state senator from Fort Worth will try to take her national celebrity from her one-woman stand against new abortion restrictions (which wound up being enacted later anyway) to a statewide run, in a state that's trending blue but not all that quickly. Her likeliest rival in the race to replace Gov. Rick Perry will be Greg Abbott, a Cruz ally who is Texas' attorney general and an interesting story in his own right. Abbott has used a wheelchair since he was partially paralyzed in a freak tree-falling accident while running at age 26. He was previously seen on the national stage defending Texas' right to display the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state Capitol. "Some politicians talk about having a steel spine. I actually have one," Abbott said in announcing his campaign, in March. This will be one of the marquee matchups of 2014.