WASHINGTON  – Even if Republicans accomplish nothing else from their standoff with President Barack Obama over the federal budget and his signature health care reform law, they will have changed the way Washington works – perhaps in a manner that winds up costing them politically.
Most of the time in the capital, policy debates are full of political posturing, threats and bluffs that end somewhere short of the brink. As the government shutdown heads into its third day, the GOP has pushed far past the edge of the cliff.
The party is actually providing a real-time test of the hypothesis that Americans are so upset with so-called Obamacare that they will tolerate – even support – shuttering large chunks of the government and enduring potentially bad economic fallout.
It’s a huge risk.
The blame for the impasse is surely going to fall on the GOP because the White House remains the most potent political force in the country, even when its occupant doesn’t use the bully pulpit to its full rhetorical advantage.
At the outset of the shutdown, members of the Hoosier Republican congressional delegation were supremely confident that their party maintained the high ground.
“We were elected into the [House] majority to make substantial changes in the health care law,” said Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-8th CD. “We all campaigned on that.”
That kind of hard-line stance may be helpful to Bucshon in fending off a primary challenge next year. His next door neighbor in the delegation, Rep. Todd Young, R-9th CD, isn’t under a threat from the Tea Party. But he, too, is comfortable with the GOP approach.
“I’ve gotten a lot of encouraging words from my own constituents on how we’re handling this situation,” Young said.
That kind of reinforcement is a result of the echo chamber created by redistricting. Rep. Todd Rokita, R-4th CD, is not worried about backlash. He said that voter sentiment in favor of the shutdown was strong during 12 town halls he conducted last month.
“We’re doing exactly what our constituents asked us to do when we were home in August,” Rokita told Hoosier reporters in a conference call earlier this week.
But the feedback that Hoosier Republicans are getting may not reflect broader reaction that could hurt the party nationally – a spectrum of voters that ranges much more widely in political orientation than that which they find at home.
Obama is just as dug into his position in opposing the shutdown and defending the health care law as the Republicans are on the opposite side.
“One faction, of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government, shut down major parts of the government – all because they didn’t like one law,” Obama said earlier this week at a White House event to mark the opening of state health insurance exchanges. “They’ve shut down the government over an ideological crusade to deny affordable health insurance to millions of Americans.”
A brief meeting at the White House between Obama and congressional leaders on Wednesday didn’t budge the stalemate. It appears that Obama will hold his ground even if the shutdown lingers until the country hits the so-called debt ceiling later this month.
“The president made clear to the leaders that he is not going to negotiate over the need for Congress to act to reopen the government or to raise the debt limit to pay the bills Congress has already incurred,” the White House said in a statement.
That inflexibility is shared by most Republicans in the House. Bucshon maintains that approving a so-called continuing resolution to keep the government operating under current budget levels would be a compromise for his party.
“Many of us want further spending cuts,” Bucshon said. “We’re willing to give that up, if we get substantial changes in the health care law.”
Young said that Republicans already have modified their position on undoing the health care law. First they wanted to defund the whole thing. Now they’re insisting on a one-year delay in the individual mandate.
“We’ve stepped back in the steps I just outlined,” Young said. “Are we willing to go further? Conceivably. We’re also looking for some movement from the other side.”
A member of the House Ways and Means Committee, Young hinted that the impasse might be broken through a bipartisan agreement that revolves around rifle-shot policy like a repeal of the health care law’s medical device tax and broad initiatives like tax reform.
“We may have a grander bargain ahead of us,” Young said.
That would be a good thing for Republicans, if the financial markets’ sanguine reaction to the shutdown transforms into a downturn over the prospect of a U.S. debt default.
“I would hope everyone in Washington would push for a swift solution so we don’t come close to…[the] debt-limit expiration date,” Young said.
If Republicans go beyond that edge, we’ll soon see whether the rest of the country is with them.

Schoeff is HPI’s Washington correspondent.