Belmont Club


Neither Congressional Republicans nor the administration publicly gave any ground in their confrontation over how to reduce the budget deficit. Each side has doubled down. President Obama played the shutdown card, saying that unless the Republicans ‘ate their peas’ then social security checks would not be mailed. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell retorted by saying that while President was in office no compromise could ever be found to reduce the budget deficit.  The problem was Obama; he was not part of the solution. Compromise, in the terms of each side, has become tantamount to surrender. The administration will agree to a “grand bargain” on the deficit, promising to cut it over ten years, only if Republicans agree to new tax measures. The Republicans, on the other hand, will stick to their campaign promise not to raise taxes and are offering smaller deficit reductions based on spending cuts only.

Both sides have “anchored” their positions by making public statements. They’ve drawn their respective lines in the sand in order to make it harder for them to chicken out. Within their respective parties the different points of view have also nailed their colors to the mast. Both sides are now on a collision course. It now looks like the first side to “eat their peas” will have big side dish of roasted crow because there will be no way to explain a swerving aside. A collision looks so imminent that while some liberal pundits are still confident that the Republicans will fold in order to find their way out a “political box”, they are now beginning to wonder if the formerly weak kneed Republicans may have found a spine somewhere.

The smash just might happen. Each side is of course crafting tactics so the blame for public inconvenience falls on the other. The Republicans have offered to give the President 3 debit limit raise checks for $700 billion, $900 billion and $900 billion. “McConnell’s plan would let the president raise the limit, while accompanying it with offsetting spending cuts, unless Congress struck down his plan with a two-thirds majority. The debt-ceiling increase could occur without the companion spending cuts. The President can also force his own plan through but politically own all of any subsequent deficit.

The first part of the plan would entail Obama submitting a request to Congress to raise the debt ceiling by $700 billion ahead of the Aug. 2 deadline. Then, Congress could pass a resolution of disapproval; the president could either sign it or veto it, McConnell said.

“Presumably, he would veto it,” McConnell continued. “If that were the case, that veto would be sustained by one-third-plus-one in either the House or the Senate.”

The second debt-limit request, for $900 billion, would then likely come in the fall of 2011 and would follow the same procedure, McConnell said. The third, another $900 billion increase, would come in the summer of 2012 and would lift the debt ceiling through the end of the year.

Along with each debt-limit increase, Obama would be required to submit a proposal for spending cuts greater than or equal to the figure by which the ceiling was raised – a move that would be in line with House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) position in the debt-limit talks.

The Republicans are offering the President a political cup of hemlock and daring him to drink it. That he won’t — unless he comes to a really desperate pass. But neither will the Republicans so easily surrender, now that they’ve taken the trouble to go so far out on a limb.

“The president could not accept that because he wanted to increase the ‘progressivity’ of the current system,” Boehner said. “This is where things began to break down.”

Boehner added: “Let me be crystal clear on this — at no time, ever, during this discussion did I agree to let taxes go up. I haven’t spent 20 years here fighting tax increases just to throw it all away in one moment. ” …

On the Democratic side, liberal groups and lawmakers are pressuring the president not to cede ground when it comes to entitlements. The rhetoric on both sides has the potential to complicate the latest marathon push to strike a deal and raise the debt ceiling.

After Obama privately offered to raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67, liberal Democrats and advocacy groups cried foul.

So each side is locked in to a large extent. One way to regard these developments is to conclude that the internal negotiating dynamics are now driven by larger political forces. Neither set of negotiators can easily back down without angering their political constituents so neither side may back down. The influence of Democratic activists has long been a factor in determining what a Democratic President could do, but historically the influence of the conservative grassroots has had a less marked effect on Republican politicians. What may have changed to throw the Administration’s strategy out of reckoning is that for the first time in decades, the conservative grassroots is as militant as its equivalent on the Left. The President had always assumed the Republicans would fold — as they always did and as they still might — but for the first time he may be having his doubts.

The debt crisis in the US and especially Europe has pulled the intellectual and political rug out from under the advocates of government spending as a solution to economic problems. Taxes, bailouts, subsidies and entitlements are suddenly bad words. Voters on every side are now more likely to grudgingly consider the possible truth of McConnell’s observation that the inability to draw a bright line has led the way to dusty, fiscal death. Getting along is no longer an absolute requirement. The time’s come to square off and if not now then when? If not now then why ever?

“They asked us to join them in another Washington effort to pull the wool over the eyes of the American people. They offered us the opportunity to participate in the kind of deliberate deception of the public that has given public service such a bad name in recent years.

“We all saw how it worked. The Administration carefully leaked to the media, without any details, the idea that it was willing to go along with trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

“The lack of detail concealed the fact that the savings they were supposedly willing to support was at best smoke and mirrors. The hope here was that the budget gimmicks and deferred decision-making they actually supported would have the appearance of serious belt-tightening.

“But the practical effect would have been at most about a couple of billion dollars in cuts up front with empty promises of more to follow. We’ve seen this kind of thing before. It’s just this kind of sleight of hand governing that’s put our nation more than $14 trillion in debt. And I will not associate myself with it. I refuse to join in an effort to fool the American people.

In other words, the GOP is saying party’s over. Both the Republican and Democratic politicians have benefited greatly from the years of government largesse. Both have been party animals. Neither is markedly superior to the other in moral terms. Where they may differ today is the degree to which they realize that the old ways are dead. And in this — and mostly in this — the Republicans have the advantage. President Obama wants to play “Happy Days Are Here Again” and McConnell knows enough to understand that only “One More For the Road” will work. But there’s only one coin left, and one jukebox.

Shane: “I came to get your offer, Ryker.”

Ryker: “I’m not dealing with you. Where’s Starrett?”

Shane: “You’re dealing with me, Ryker.”

Ryker: “I got no quarrel with you, Shane. You can walk out now and no hard feeling. ”

Shane: “What’s your offer, Ryker?

Ryker: “To you, not a thing.”

Shane:”That’s too bad. You’ve lived too long. Your kind of days are over.”

Ryker: “My days? And yours, gunfighter?”

Shane: “The difference is I know it.”

And everyone knows the rest. It’s gotten so that there’s really no room left in the world for those who think the way forward is big government and those who disagree. There’ll be a showdown at some point and then one side will ride off into the sunset. That realization is probably where the GOP is getting its ideas.  Even if the Party’s over there’s still survival. Just basic survival.

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