The PJ Tatler

So There's a GOP Proposal to End the Budget Standoff? It's Vertigo at the Alamo.

It’s striking how little Barack Obama actually has to do in order to get his way. He doesn’t have to negotiate, he doesn’t have to offer concrete proposals, he just has to be. It’s equally striking how lucky he is. The past fortnight should have killed off his presidency. His signature law was implemented, and it was an instant embarrassment. Fiasco. Evidence that Big Government is a Big Fail. Nothing but glitches as far as the eye can see, and it’s demonstrably destroying livelihoods all over the country. Whether that was part of the plan or not — Harry Reid says it was — the fact is, Obama made promises about that law that are clearly not being kept. Everyone knows it. Yet so far he is escaping the voters’ wrath, while the Republicans fighting to kill that law are taking a beating in all of the polls, and in some polls more than others.

It’s just not fair that the “fairness president” gets to behave so unfairly yet continues to stay ahead of his opponents.

Now the Republicans look set to stage what might be called a strategic retreat.

House Republicans are offering to pass legislation to avert a default and end the 11-day partial government shutdown as part of a framework that would include cuts in benefit programs, officials said Friday.

Republicans also seek changes in the three-year-old health care law known as Obamacare as part of an end to an impasse that has roiled financial markets and idled 350,000 federal workers.

President Barack Obama has insisted he will not negotiate with Republicans over federal spending — or anything else — until the government is reopened and the $16.7 debt limit raised to avert the possibility of default.

Yet, regarding benefit programs, Obama has backed an increase in Medicare costs for better-off seniors, among other items, and that idea also has appeal for Republicans.

Strategic retreats are not always bad things. They may allow a battered force to exit a losing battle, regroup and heal up, then live to fight and win another day. Essentially, that’s what happened in The Empire Strikes Back once the rebels lost Hoth. Was Luke a surrender monkey for heading off to find Yoda and get himself jedified?

But the GOP’s new offer seems to bank on that old Obama stance on benefit cuts, which means it banks on him being consistent, which in turn means it banks on the media making sure that he stays consistent.

The latter is not going to happen. The media haven’t called him out for being Two Face on the debt ceiling, opposing raising it in 2006 in stark terms and now demanding raising it in equally stark terms. The media won’t even ask him about the Obamacare rollout. They’re not going to hold him to account for some old stance he took more than five minutes ago. Not. Gonna. Happen.

In addition to ending the shutdown and increasing the debt limit, under the proposal Congress and the White House would explore ways to ease across-the-board federal budget cuts that began taking effect a year ago, and replace at least part of them with benefit-program curbs that have been included in recent presidential budgets. Officials who described the approach did so on condition of anonymity, saying they were not authorized to discuss private conversations.

Why should the sequester be eased at all? It’s living proof that when Obama scaremongers, he’s either clueless or lying. He predicted dire doom and gloom if the sequester kicked in. The sequester kicked in months ago. We’re still here. Obama’s predictions read like Mayan prophecies of the end of the world now.

Yet the media still fails to laugh in his face.

The benefit cuts as described won’t impact Obama’s welfare voters. The GOP proposal’s changes, while necessary, will tend to hit their more affluent voters more than Obama’s. I’ve backed raising the retirement age and means testing benefits for a long time. But for the Republicans to put that on the table now is curious. It gives Obama the chance to claim a centrism that isn’t his, and may tarnish Republicans with some of their more consistent voters. It’s a retreat, but doesn’t look very strategic.

On the broader standoff, Obama made the same demand the Devil makes in U2’s “Vertigo” — “Just give me what I want and no one gets hurt.” No negotiations. He has even made absurd claims that since Obamacare is now law, it shouldn’t be questioned. This, from the same man who consistently attacks a much older law, the Second Amendment, which has been settled law for more than 200 years. If we’re not to question laws once they’re on the books, we would still live under Prohibition.

Our president makes absurd claims and the media still fails to laugh in his face.

Republicans appear to be giving Obama mostly what he wants, having seen him hurt Americans for more than a week.

Maybe they’re thinking that they lose today but plan to win tomorrow. Strategic retreat and all that. Fair enough, Texans know that history provides an example of dark days before dawn — total defeat at the Alamo, total victory at San Jacinto.

If that’s where we are, then perhaps Ted Cruz is standing in for the brave William Barret Travis.

If that’s the case, who is our Sam Houston?

Update: Jon Karl can’t find Sam Houston either.

The bottom line: Republicans are working out the terms of their surrender and are attempting to get something for a standoff that has divided the party and cost dearly in the polls. On substance, it is Republicans who are giving in, although the president is now doing something he said he would not do: negotiate while the government is shutdown and there is a threat of default.

He’s negotiating, but he’s made it clear he is not going to give much.

Just give him what he wants, and everyone gets hurt anyway.

It seems to me, in retrospect, that there was a path to victory for the GOP that was not taken. The Democrat-controlled Senate was not going to defund all of Obamacare, and even if it did, Obama would not sign that bill. That’s reality. He wanted a shutdown. That’s also reality. But it’s also reality that Obamacare is unpopular, and it’s reality that Obama has given lawless exemptions to the law that don’t make it anymore popular. It’s possible that going a bit populist and using those exemptions against Obama could have forced some concessions from him. We may get to find out if that’s workable, if the standoff doesn’t end or returns for another round in a few weeks.