A pretty chaotic chapter in the deficit debate ended tonight with passage of a Republican bill in the House of Representatives.
Now the most important — and perhaps most entertaining — chapter is about to begin. For political cover Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will seek to kill the House legislation. His act will get cheers from his party and from his activists.
But Sen. Reid will have to craft a Democratic bill that also can attract at least seven Republican senators. This is no small feat. He will need 60 votes to pass the debt reduction bill in the Senate. He already lost one cloture vote on Friday night. And West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin has declared his opposition to the Reid bill. This means the Democrats need to entice, seduce or bribe eight Republicans.
In private Reid will be sit down with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and deal. He’ll have to present a proposal that can attract bi-partisan support. In effect it is Reid’s bill that’s dead on arrival.
Most of the media bought into a Democratic narrative that ridiculed the seeming futility of House Republicans.They ignored the reality that once a bill passes from one chamber to another the political calculus changes. The Senate rules favor the minority.
Over the weekend something else also may become apparent. President Obama will be permanently sidelined as an observer. Of course he’ll be informed about the negotiations and his staff will stay in touch. But the President will be largely invisible and out of the talks.
Which is where the President sat throughout the historic debt reduction debate. He never presented a public plan. He never accepted the tough recommendations of his own deficit reduction commission.
Obama understands that cutting spending and entitlements is the third rail of politics. He refused to become the author of any proposition that would slash federal programs and entitlements. Cutting sacred federal programs would burn him with his base.
So he decided to let others carry the water. The President played the detached and aloof spectator. He pretended to be a frustrated observer. Most likely he hoped the issue would disappear. But he won’t be able to escape the crippling reality of our ballooning budget.
In the end it may be ironic that President Obama may preside — unwillingly — as the overseer of the end of the modern welfare state. He overplayed his hand in his first two years in office. Now the sheer financial math is against him. As Roger Simon wrote earlier today, “The welfare state is kaput. It’s gone — probably for generations to come.”
When might Democrats acknowledge it?
It could happen as early as this weekend when Senator Reid sits down in his Capitol Building hideaway and looks at the options before him — and before our nation.