Republicans Will Win the Battle, But Will It Cost Them The War?
Will the Republican manufactured debt ceiling fight be resolved? Almost certainly, the signs are all there that there is a deal to be had. As long as various dumbasses (I’m looking at you Gang of Six and all 85 of the House Republican freshmen) stop sticking their fingers in the gears, that is.
But what happens afterwards? This is not a pick up game of stick ball, where when the final out is called all the teams break up and are reformed in a different configuration for the next one. The policy fight is not the only thing going on here.
On the policy fight side we can say without fear of contradiction that the Republicans won. Unless the Reason and Sanity Fairy gets of his ass and sprinkles a ton of fairy dust over the capital the final deal will include at least a trillion in real dollar spending reductions, and no reinvestment of our “peace dividend” for getting out of Iraq at the end of this year and whenever the hell we get out of Afghanistan (Remember Afghanistan?).
No matter what the final contours of the deal are, it will be in the Republican frame of all cuts and no revenue. Even if you are always and totally a partisan Democrat (not that there is anything wrong with that, stronger partisan Dems would have made this a very different fight) you will not be able to spin this as a win. At best it will be like a John LeCarre novel where there are no winners just survivors.
But not everyone is going to be a survivor and that might be the silver lining in this very gray cloud of staggeringly stupid and boneheaded policy. Certainly John Boehner is in his one and only term as Speaker of the House. Only the Weeper from Reading could make the third most powerful position in the nation (maybe second if you figure that the VP is mostly waiting around to be powerful) look so weak.
Appearances matter in politics and for the last 200 days all appearances have looked as though the Speaker was holding on the ears of a tiger, in the form of the Tea Party Freshmen in Congress. While it might look vaguely possible to steer a tiger by tugging on her ears, the reality is all you do is piss off the tiger more.
The abject failure of his third time-wasting symbolic vote in the House is a clear example that he does not truly lead his caucus; he merely has the bigger office and wields the gavel. Being Speaker of the House is all well and good, but if you can not deliver the votes to govern when it is required, then all it means is you have a bunch of cool business cards that say Speaker of the House.
A related casualty of this fight is Republican unity. It is one of their best political tools, the ability to keep members together so legislation that is unpopular with the American people can be enacted by a block vote. Republicans since the time of Newt Gingrich have been threatening and rewarding their caucus into lock step, but that seems to be at an end.
It is not all a failure of leadership on Rep. Boehner’s part. He has lost one of the tools that were so effective in keeping recalcitrant Republicans in order, pork. The jihad against earmarks has born unexpected fruit. Gone are the days when a Representative could be induced to go along with the promise of a new off ramp or a research facility bearing their name in their district.
For us good government types that is actually a win. The trading of earmarks for votes was a highly corrupting practice. Now if you want someone’s vote, you have to actually have legislation that they can support. Still it has taken a tool out of the tool box for Republicans.
The other casualty of this fight might be a real net positive. One of the worries for Democrats and folks on the Left has been that the White House and the Democrats in the Senate have been validating the hostage taking strategy. We saw it in the fight over extending unemployment benefits in trade for letting millionaires and billionaires keep an average of 100,000 a year in tax breaks, instead of letting those Bush era mistakes expire as written in the original law.
When push came to shove the President prioritized keeping the tax breaks for the middle class and give some help to those who could not find work. A hard pill to swallow, but it is one that I would have swallowed myself if I had been in the White House. The down side is that they joyously took another hostage in the form of our credit rating and the whole U.S. economy.
It has been a worry that we are training the Republicans to view this as their best way of getting what they want, take a hostage, make totally unreasonable demands and count on the sanity of the Democrats and the President to get 90% of what they want. It has worked so far, so why not in the future?
That is where I am not so sure. It takes forever for the American people to get an idea in our collective heads. To my enduring shame not enough of us follow what is actually going on and look beyond the talking points to the policy. But once we do figure out who is at fault, in general, we stick with that idea.
On the issue of taking hostages I think that the American people are fed up. For all that we are not happy with the frankly mystifyingly poor negotiation skills and strategies of the President, as a group we do see that that he is at least negotiating in good faith.
He does not take hostages, and he does try to solve the issues facing the nation (that he takes paths that I think are bad policy is just par for the course. Name a president who has not let you down on more than a few policy fights and I’ll give you a Silver Dollar).
The Republicans have been seen to be unruly, unreasonable and more than a little bit unhinged. This is not an endearing factor for the public.
The next step, in fact the very first thing that the Congress will do after they come back from the August recess, will have to be a Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded. The Teahadists are already sharpening their knives to hold at the throat of the government and demand more and steeper cuts to programs that are needed or to agencies that do little things like assure our air and water are clean or that our food does not poison us.
This is where I think the one bright spot of this whole mess will emerge. Republicans may feel like they have a winning strategy but when their hostage taking goes into its fourth iteration and starts to move into an entire year, I believe the American people are going to finally be utterly and completely fed up.
The reality is that Republican policy is hugely unpopular. They do not have majority support for any of it, but they have been given this chance in the House to have a say because they are passionate and a lot of dumb people thought they could be trusted.
By showing that they can’t govern, they will put themselves in a very tight spot. If they come to the point of shutting the government down again, they will have confirmed the Lefts contention that they are untrustworthy. They will show that it is all about ideology and not about doing the peoples work. That is going to cost them dearly.
As a score card the Republicans are going to win this fight, hell they have already given the policies that are on the table. The question is, will it cost them the war? If the Democrats get off their asses and stop accepting the frames of the Republicans, then there is every chance the Republicans will lose the war, and the Congress.
It will be too high a price to have paid, but at least we will have gotten something for all the sacrifice that has been inflicted in surviving the Republican hostage taking.
The floor is yours.