Grand Bargain Circus – Red Clowns Ready?
There’s a big deal brewing in the Beltway Bigtop that’s been years in the making. The Grand Bargain is now officially on the red clown leadership’s radar. But can they get their ducks in a row? Will the rank and file blue clowns have an attack of conscience? And what about the audience – will they meekly accept the shears as the Ringmaster and clowns together begin to fleece them? Or will they bombard the clowns with rotten tomatoes, imprecations, incantations and entreaties frightening them away from yet another of the Ringmaster’s big plans as they did with the Ringmaster’s recent plan to engage in yet another stupid and expensive war of choice?
Here’s a wrap up of the past couple of days under the Beltway Bigtop.
Bigtop Blame-a-Rama – Juggling the Hot Potato of Blame
The lights have been doused under the Beltway Bigtop as the red clowns and blue clowns could not come to agreement over how best to rob the audience. The blue clowns adamantly protected the Ringleader’s plan to demand tribute of the audience for his donor cronies in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in return for health care insurance products of dubious utility. The red clowns would not give up their demands to kill the Ringleader’s program as well as demands for a smorgasbord of environmental destruction, means-testing for medicare, limitation of court awards for medical malpractice, repeal of taxes on some of their cronies and a contraceptive-free dessert bar.
As the sun came up on the Beltway Bigtop Tuesday morning there were lines of circus employees leaving the parking lot as the tall order of the day began – the search for a scapegoat.
While both the red clowns and the blue clowns stayed up until the wee hours juggling the hot potato of blame back and forth between the red clown-controlled Ring 1 and the blue clown-controlled Ring 3, the Ringmaster called the red clowns “irresponsible” and upbraided them for their, “ideological crusade.”
The US government shut down early Tuesday for the first time since 1996 after lawmakers divided over Obamacare failed to reach an agreement to fund federal agencies through the next fiscal year.
President Barack Obama called it the ‘height of irresponsibility.’
Speaking Tuesday afternoon, Obama slammed Republicans for shutting down the government as part of an “ideological crusade” designed to kill his signature health care law.
‘I urge House Republicans to reopen the government,’ Obama said at the White House Rose Garden, while surrounded by Americans he said would benefit from the Affordable Care Act.
Meanwhile one of the red clowns’ leaders, Boner T. Redclown, did impressions of the Ringmaster over in Ring 1 as he passed juggling potatoes back and forth with Harry T. Blueclown over in Ring 3. Harry T. Blueclown, for his part, returned the relentless hail of hot potatoes with all of the speed and bravado he could muster.
House Speaker John Boehner imitated the president on the House floor as he described their ultimately fruitless conversation Monday evening in the hours before a U.S. government shutdown.
‘I talked to the president earlier tonight,’ the Ohio Republican said before dropping his voice to sound more like President Barack Obama. ‘I’m not gonna negotiate. I’m not gonna negotiate. We’re not gonna do this.’ Well, I would say to the president, ‘This is not about me. This is not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness for the American people.’
House Republicans repeatedly sent bills that would have temporarily funded the federal government but cut funding or delayed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
The Senate’s Democratic majority repeatedly stripped those bills of their anti-Obamacare provisions and sent them back to the House for approval, setting up the impasse that led to the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years.
Audience reaction was mixed to the impressions and the rapid-fire juggling spectacle, however, the Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions was quick to assign responsibility for Boner T. Redclown’s performance to a subset of the most effusive and animated of the red clowns. Some in the Beltway Bigtop’s Office of Promotions claim that a conspiracy is afoot amongst some of the red clowns to force Boner T. Redclown into his behavior, while others claim that Boner T. Redclown and his leadership group held a meeting outside of the Bigtop and stole the schtick of the more animated red clowns.
Monday was a frantic day on Capitol Hill, though all the activity ultimately came to nought: A flurry of last-minute legislative feints failed to prevent the government from shutting down at midnight. But in the process, House Republicans’ total crackup was on full, public display.
The breaking point was Speaker John Boehner’s penultimate proposal, a bill that would have funded the government — and Obamacare — while delaying the health-care law’s individual mandate and canceling congressional staffers’ insurance subsidies. To Boehner, this was a major concession from the House’s previous offering — a delay of the entire law. To the White House and Senate Democrats, it was just as unacceptable and no concession at all.
But within the GOP, it provoked a freakout on both Boehner’s right and left flanks. Moderate Republicans, long silent for fear of the party’s angry base, correctly viewed the proposal as inexorably leading to shutdown, and threatened to rise up and block it. ‘This is going nowhere,’ New York Representative Peter King told National Review. He claimed to have 25 members on his side and demanded that Boehner instead put a ‘clean’ government-funding bill — one that didn’t touch health care — on the floor of the House.
Meanwhile, conservatives were also in revolt. The Senate Conservatives Fund sent an email to its supporters denouncing “the Republican establishment in Washington” for telling ‘lies to help them fund Obamacare.’ It accused GOP leaders of using the mandate delay as cover to disguise the fact that they were allowing the rest of the law to go into effect — something the group called unacceptable.
Many in the Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions are eager to sell the narrative that the clowns have cracked up and become completely dysfunctional, creating new norms for governance.
Many of the contributing media outlets in the Beltway Bigtop’s Office of Promotion apparently can’t seem to remember previous government shutdowns as they swoon from the vapors from their, “discovery” of the, “new governing norms.”
In the past the blue clowns have been quite willing to press their advantage as a majority to protect their constituency just as the red clowns are doing now:
There were four shutdowns over abortion funding in the 1970s, a Democratic-led shutdown over funding for the notorious MX missile in 1982, a Democratic-led shutdown over a Supreme Court civil rights ruling in 1984, a Democratic-led shutdown over expanding Aid to Families with Dependent Children (that’s welfare) in 1986, and a Democratic-led shutdown over aid to the Contras and the Fairness Doctrine(!) in 1987. So shutdowns were for quite a while part of the normal business of government. And as I said, there’s a cruel logic to them. When Congress and the White House are held by different parties, Congress has no bigger chip at their disposal than the power of the purse. So they use that, over and over again, to extract often unrelated policy concessions from the executive branch. It may have stopped for a while for various reasons, but it’s back because it’s a very inviting way for a Congressional majority to assert their will.
Why Can’t the Blue Clowns Play the Game?
While one set of red clowns stalks the Ringmaster holding out hoops for him to jump through, another group of red clowns is sneaking out towards the fringes of the tent brandishing torches and threatening to burn the Bigtop down.
The Ringmaster remains impassive and, out of one side of his mouth refuses to negotiate, while out of the other makes promises to negotiate, but, on his terms:
Placing blame squarely on House Republicans, Obama said ‘the bottom line is that the Senate has passed a bill that keeps the government open, does not have a lot of extraneous issues to it, that allows us then to negotiate a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues but that ensure that we’re not shutting down the government and we’re not shutting down the economy at a time when a lot of families out there are just getting some traction in digging themselves out of the hole that we’ve had as a consequence of the financial crisis.’
Given that the blue clowns control both the Main Ring and Ring 3, one would assume that the party of the Four Freedoms and the Great Society, friend of the working man and the underprivileged, would have pressed their advantage to make some serious gains for their constituency.
Instead, the blue clowns, in concert with the Ringmaster have been working to apply increasing levels of austerity to their constituency while their policies reward the Beltway Bigtop funders who want austerity.
And the blue clowns aim to please their masters:
Virtually all of the services that will go unfilled during this shutdown, for example, are services for the poor or near-poor. A sclerotic governing system empowers a status quo that is biased toward elites, who are often the only ones able to break the gridlock, when it suits them and their pocketbooks.
Consider also how the nature of the gridlock itself empowers elite goals in this case. Democratic pundits and allies have talked themselves blue about the doomed Speakership of John Boehner, the lunacy of Ted Cruz, and whether the Republican fever will break. Precious few words, by contrast, have been written about the fact that the SOLUTION here, the position that Democrats have been pushing, is a ‘clean’ continuing resolution, which will enforce sequestration limits, a spending cap below societal need and economic demand, into Fiscal Year 2014. And while that would only hold for a couple months, anyone who thinks sequestration will somehow be cancelled (or even ‘replaced,’ which does the economy next to no good from a macro standpoint) by the same people who just shut down the government over ‘defunding’ Obamacare, which is by its nature mandatory spending and not defunded today, is nuts. But Democratic politicians benefit from the virtual silence about how the country is doomed to austerity spending caps for what could be an entire decade. And elites enjoy advantages from such a state of affairs as well.
When the Ringmaster speaks of, “negotiat[ing] a longer-term budget and address a range of other issues,” he’s not talking about a bold plan to meet his constituency’s demands. The Ringmaster is talking about another round of his “Grand Bargain” negotiations.
The Ringmaster’s base constituency is certainly not demanding cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Tricare or other similar cuts to social programs.
The vast majority, left, right and in-between, have repeatedly made it clear that they do not want cuts to either of these vital programs. A CBS News poll conducted last month shows that 80 percent of Americans, regardless of political affiliation, opposed cutting spending on Medicare to reduce the budget deficit, while 79 percent were against cutting Social Security for that reason.
The people don’t want the cuts, and the facts don’t support them. There are certainly no economic excuses: The federal deficit politicans howl about is shrinking, as none other than Goldman Sachs’ chief economist has attested. And even if it wasn’t, Social Security doesn’t affect it – a fact that many Americans have copped onto despite the best efforts of politicians to deceive them. Clearly, in a time of growing economic inequality, there is no justification for taking more money out of the hands of the elderly and the vulnerable.
The only people demanding entitlement cuts are, hmmmm… the Beltway Bigtop funders:
Mark Thoma has an excellent column at the Fiscal Times linking the fight over the debt ceiling to the larger issue of extreme inequality. … I’d like, however, to suggest that the reality is even worse than Thoma suggests.
Here’s how Thoma puts it:
‘Rising inequality and differential exposure to economic risk has caused one group to see themselves as the “makers” in society who provide for the rest and pay most of the bills, and the other group as “takers” who get all the benefits. The upper strata wonders, “Why should we pay for social insurance when we get little or none of the benefits?” and this leads to an attack on these programs.’
How, then, are things even worse than he says? Because many of the rich are selective in their opposition to government helping the unlucky. They’re against stuff like food stamps and unemployment benefits; but bailing out Wall Street? Yay! …
The point is that the superrich have not gone Galt on us — not really, even if they imagine they have. It’s much closer to pure class warfare, a defense of the right of the privileged to keep and extend their privileges. It’s not Ayn Rand, it’s Ancien Régime.
And this just in… the red clown leadership is taking the bait!
House Republicans tell me Speaker John Boehner wants to craft a ‘grand bargain’ on fiscal issues as part of the debt-limit deliberations, and during a series of meetings on Wednesday, he urged colleagues to stick with him.
The revelation came quietly. Boehner called groups of members to his Capitol office all day, taking their temperature on the shutdown and the debt limit. It became clear, members say, that Boehner’s chief goal is conference unity as the debt limit nears, and he’s looking at potentially blending a government-spending deal and debt-limit agreement into a larger budget package.
‘It’s the return of the grand bargain,’ says one House Republican, who requested anonymity to speak freely. ‘There weren’t a lot of specifics discussed, and the meetings were mostly about just checking in. But he’s looking hard at the debt limit as a place where we can do something big.’
But can the red clown leadership bring along the rank and file?
The Red Clowns Try To Put Their Scary Monster Back In the Closet
The Ringmaster is clearly ready to do the business and the bidding of the Beltway Bigtop funders.
In order to signal this to one and all, the Ringmaster has taken to the center ring, lit a fire and is sending up smoke signals to announce that he has appointed his former “opponent,” Mitt T. Redclown’s policy director, currently a fellow at the Hoover Institution Clown College, to the Social Security Advisory Board.
Given the red clowns’ expressed desire to “roll back the new deal,” will they come to the table to take down the programs that red clown funders and the blue clown funders both want gone?
It looks like the red clowns will have to deal with the remnants of a rather unweildy stage prop that they made for previous shows in order to get down to business:
[T]here is no doubt that the Republican right in the age of Obama, and to some extent before that, in its desire to roll back what’s left of the welfare state, what’s left of the New Deal, and back in the Reagan era, in order to crush what was left of the New Deal era, did call, has called into being an almost Frankenstein-like monster in the form of Fox News, a far right-wing talk radio network, and has really created a kind of almost frothing constituency in these very tightly gerrymandered, often rural, white congressional districts. …
And these people seem to have gone just completely off of the reservation. And it’s gotten to the point that the big capitalist elites that called them into being are now sort of horrified of them. And you see The Wall Street Journal in particular, and some of the old-line more centrist type of Republicans like John McCain and Senator Corker from Tennessee, calling them ‘wacko birds’ and being horrified by them. But, you know, the GOP establishment created all of this in many ways. …
[T]hey’ve really cultivated a group of people who are motivated by some pretty dark, almost proto-fascistic, certainly racist … people who don’t seem to know where to stop and really are just sort of, you know, Ted Cruz stand your ground, who are willing to go all the way, you know, go to the wall to stop this horrific Obamacare, which they have been told by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the rest of the right-wing talk machine noise machine is some sort of incredible socialist government intervention in the health care system, which is, of course, completely preposterous, ’cause Obamacare is a fairly center-right corporate-friendly health care intervention. It was designed in part to head off the real social democratic and majority-supported health reform, which was single-payer.
Ironically it is the red clowns’ “Frankenstein Monster” (courtesy of the Koch Clowns, Rupert T. Redclown and Rush T. Redclown among others) that has so far saved the audience from the implementation of cuts to “socialist” entitlement programs which are opposed by the vast majority of the audience.
As the clock ticks down to the Debt Limit Doomsday, can the red clowns tame their Fractious Frankenstein monster?
The Ringmaster and most of the blue clowns are happy to enact much of the red clowns’ agenda (because it is also the blue clowns’ agenda) so long as the red clowns can conveniently be the final recipient of the hot potato of blame. The blue clowns are just too cowardly to enact the corporate agenda of the Beltway Bigtop funders all at once; they mean to implement it in tiny pieces, much like the effect of the Ringmaster’s chained cpi, in hopes that the slow implementation will suppress audience outrage.
Stay tuned! And stay tuned after the main event, because the blue clowns and the red clowns are already making plans for a joint project to benefit the Union of Pickpockets and Banker Bozos just as soon as the center ring goes dark between acts.
When the drama surrounding a government shutdown abates, the House of Representatives expects to take up legislation to expand taxpayer support for derivatives, the complex financial products at the heart of the 2008 meltdown. And while traditionally straightforward tasks like funding the federal government have become raucously contentious in recent weeks, a bill subsidizing Wall Street banks is likely to garner significant bipartisan support.
Also on the post-shutdown agenda is legislation that would prevent the Department of Labor and the SEC from implementing new consumer protection standards for 401(k) accounts and other retirement funds.
Both bills are efforts to roll back reforms that passed under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform bill. A small cadre of liberal Democrats are marshaling opposition to the bills, but still expect dozens of Democrats to join a united Republican Party in passing the legislation.
‘As we’re trying to forestall a government shutdown, we’ve got these ugly financial services bills on the horizon,’ said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), co-chair of the House Progressive Caucus. ‘It’s a multi-pronged attack on the middle class.’