WASHINGTON, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Washington is better at getting into crises than getting out of them. Still, Congress and the White House have managed to extricate themselves, and the country, from some deeply threatening impasses over the past two decades.
Most commonly, they "kick the can down the road," with both sides agreeing on some future course of action, such as the creation of a committee, that gives each a way of claiming a measure of victory but guarantees no particular result.
The current stalemate that has shut down much of the government could also threaten a government default if it merges with a separate controversy over raising the administration's borrowing authority on Oct. 17.
It differs from previous showdowns because Republican conservatives are insisting on a condition that is non-negotiable for Democrats: delaying or defunding a massive program already in operation, President Barack Obama's health care law, known as "Obamacare."
Several pathways to ending the shutdown have been discussed, with some mix of them possible. So far, there have been no hints which one could reach critical mass.
Here are a few:
THE FACE-SAVING SOLUTION:
Conservative Republicans need something they can claim as a victory in their war against Obamacare.
Republicans in the House of Representatives have already altered their original demand for defunding the health care law, going instead for a delay in its implementation and repeal of a tax on medical devices that helps to fund the program.
Repeal of the medical device tax - if detached from more militant anti-Obamacare proposals - might have some appeal for Senate Democrats from states where device manufacturers are big employers.
But it would slice nearly $30 billion off the funding planned for implementing Obamacare, so it is in fact a form of defunding. Obama says it is unacceptable.
Another proposal by Republicans would eliminate what they say is an exemption from Obamacare for members of Congress and their staffs in the interest of "fairness."
That narrow, symbolic victory for Republicans on Obamacare would probably not satisfy the most conservative Tea Party-oriented House Republicans or give them a sufficient face-saving way to back off on the shutdown, let alone clear away their resistance to raising the debt ceiling.
THE CLEAN BILL SOLUTION:
Stripping any anti-Obamacare provision from the funding bill would make it "clean" - strictly about paying for government activities and not about health insurance coverage. That would end the shutdown.
But at this point, it appears the only sure way to get a clean bill would be for about 20 moderate Republicans in the House and most of the 200 House Democrats to team up and override the wishes of the conservative Republicans.
That can only happen of House Speaker John Boehner permits a bill to come to the floor for a vote, letting the full chamber have a say.
Boehner is resisting this because it could end the shutdown under terms most Republicans dislike. It would leave Republican lawmakers badly split, with the shutdown tactic seen as a failure that could cost Boehner his speakership.
THE SUPER STORM SOLUTION:
Many influential Republicans would like to negotiate the government funding bill and the debt ceiling as one big package.
A shutdown is messy and inconvenient but it has not yet led to a sense of crisis. A default on the federal government's financial obligations - even talking about a default - can cause scary gyrations in financial markets. It's a superstorm.
The theory is that fear of a markets meltdown - and the likely negative public reaction that would follow - would prompt all sides to get more serious about negotiations and maybe lead to an agreement.
A debt ceiling crisis in August 2011 concluded with an agreement to appoint a "supercommittee" of Democratic and Republican members of Congress to cut the deficit. It failed - leading to yet another crisis.
The more likely path this time - already proposed by both Democrats and Republicans - is to use Congress' existing committee procedures to sort out the mess.
House Speaker John Boehner has already appointed a group of Republicans to meet in conference with the Senate to deal with differences. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is amenable to "going to conference" so long as that happens after the government is reopened - a significant sticking point.
In the alternative, members could come up with a very temporary funding bill that would reopen the government, raise the debt ceiling and refer all their fiscal diffferences to the existing standing committees of the House and Senate that deal with the budget.
There are lots of issues both parties would like to discuss, including replacing the so-called "sequester" of "meat ax" government-wide budget cuts now in effect with more rational, targeted deficit reduction measures.
Democrats and Republicans have been talking about such a grand bargain for several years, but have been unable even pass an ordinary budget bill through the Congress. Republicans want deep cuts in entitlement programs, such as Medicare, and Democrats want tax increases on the affluent.
(Editing by Fred Barbash, Martin Howell and Jackie Frank)