How Republicans Backed Themselves into a Corner


Politico’s Jim VandeHei and others keep saying that the fiscal cliff vote undermined the Democrat’s ability to get more revenue. I don’t see it that way. Sure, it would have been great to have finally solved this problem during the fiscal cliff debate. If they were really as close as the President says, then it’s dreadful that both sides didn’t try just a little bit harder to get there. But we are where we are. If Republicans want more spending cuts, there’s simply going to have to be at least $600 billion in added revenue, as Simpson-Bowles says. (Why would Democrats agree to anything less?) If the cliff deal undermined the Democratic Party’s ability to get more revenue, it equally undermined the Republican Party’s ability to get more spending cuts. There’s no getting the one without the other. We get neither or we get both: that’s the situation.

Three months? In that case, the parties need to get right to work. Republicans held a decent hand there for a moment, but threw it away when they once again conjured up the specter of defaulting. It has backed them into a corner which they can only get out of by 1) coming to some kind of agreement with Democrats; 2) caving right before the default deadline; or 3) shooting the hostage (i.e., defaulting) and then caving, and in the most inglorious way. Each of the three steps gets progressively worse. In other words: 1 is their best option to avoid a huge GOP defeat; 2 means a very bad cave-in; 3 spells total disaster for them. Now, in case reporters criticize Democrats for the violent metaphor, don’t forget that it was a Republican who said that “if you take hostages, you have to be willing to shoot them.” Shooting the hostage will really hurt the country, but it will hurt the GOP more than anybody else. Enough voters will simply write them off as not fit to govern. Republicans can also shut down the government, a move that might, at first, earn them accolades. But people eventually tire of shutdowns, as they do of labor union strikes that obstruct the normal course of events (I don’t get my mail because mailmen are striking; my children can’t go to school because the teachers are striking; etc.).

But Democrats shouldn’t get too cocky. This is the time for cooperation, even if you hold the upper hand. The first deal locked in more than two trillion dollars in spending cuts (counting the sequester); the second deal achieved some revenue. And now this last deal has to include both revenue and spending cuts. If we veer away from Simpson-Bowles (which is the closest thing we have to a bipartisan plan), I doubt we will ever achieve the level of spending cuts that the committee called for.

Whenever a Republican says that we’re done with revenue, Democrats have to remind the public that the Simpson-Bowles targets haven’t been met. I know that lately Simpson and Bowles have been stressing spending over revenue, but it doesn’t change the fact that they already set a specific amount of revenue to be achieved. Revenue stays on the table no matter what Republicans say. After all, they don’t have the power to take it off the table all by themselves. Only Simpson-Bowles — or, ironically, Democrats — could do that. But that’s not going to happen.

The Republicans were smart to put the debt ceiling off, but in three months they will be in the same position. However tempting for Democrats the prospect of a total Republican implosion might be, I don’t see how a Republican defeat gets us more spending cuts. Why is achieving the Simpson-Bowles targets on both spending and revenue so important? Because not doing so might lead to another credit downgrade (or worse). Now it’s true that, if that were to happen, Republicans would once again get most of the blame. But obviously a credit downgrade wouldn’t be good for the country.

As long as Republicans are perceived as obstructionist (and extreme), they will continue to remain unpopular — unless Obama pursues a very extreme agenda of his own, and I don’t see that happening. There’s nothing  like Obamacare on the horizon. Even on the gun issue, not everyone will agree with the president, but people won’t see his proposals as overly radical (as they would if he wanted to ban guns altogether, or something of that nature).

The feeling I get from Republicans lately: they fully realize what a loser the debt ceiling debate ultimately is for them. I say ultimately because the American people do want to cut government spending. (Or so they say. When they start specifying what they want to cut, though, it pretty much comes down to foreign aid and congressional pay). Based on that sentiment, the people might side with Republicans to a certain extent. However, as long as Democrats also stress the need for more spending cuts, they neutralize the issue to a certain extent (it steals the GOP’s thunder). Moreover, I am fairly certain that when that deadline approaches and the consequence of defaulting stares America in the face, the People (whether rich, poor, or in between) will turn on Republicans over the debt ceiling, and it will get raised. But I’m with Republicans on congressional pay. If possible, it should be suspended until a deal is made.

Republicans can keep obstructing everything, but will only be cutting off their nose to spite their face. I know that picking up seats in the midterms seems very unlikely for Democrats, but just wait. Give Republicans enough rope; they will hang themselves.


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