Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Calling bullshit on the Republicans' desperate supercommittee ploy

By Michael J.W. Stickings

The Republicans have backed themselves into a corner. They've allowed a teabagging minority of their own party to shut down the government, they're toying with global economic catastrophe by threatening to vote against a debt ceiling increase, and, in general, their petulant-child approach to fiscal policy amounts to nothing more than hostage-taking. And the polls are clear: The American people are correctly blaming them for causing the current crisis.

So what do they do? Allow a majority in the House to prevail with a vote on a "clean" continuing resolution to reopen the government? Nope. Rein in their bluster and agree that the debt ceiling isn't something to use as a political weapon? Hardly. Accept that Obamacare is the law of the land and stop trying to kill it by any means possible? Yeah, right. Say enough is enough to Ted Cruz and his teabagging radicals? Of course not.

No, they posture, grandstand, and attempt, with one last-ditch effort, to turn the tables on President Obama and the Democrats:

House Republicans will bring to the floor a bill to create a bipartisan, bicameral committee to address the current fiscal impasse that has shut down much of the government and threatens a debt default.

A GOP leadership aide said the committee wouldn't just handle the continuing resolution needed to fund the government. It would have broader jurisdiction similar to the 2011 Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, also known as the supercommittee, and would cover the debt limit and other fiscal issues.

A GOP appropriations aide also described the working group as similar to the supercommittee, but on a smaller scale, and without instructions.

"I want to have a conversation," said Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio. "I'm not drawing lines in the sand. I'm requesting to sit down to resolve our differences."

Boehner said, "There's no boundaries here. There's nothing on the table, there's nothing off the table. I'm trying to do everything I can to bring people together and have a conversation."

What complete and utter bullshit.

Boehner's just trying to hold onto the speakership by finding a way out of the corner, hoping that the Democrats will give him enough rope for him to save himself and his party from implosion.

It's the president and his party who have repeatedly shown a genuine willingness to compromise. Much to the chagrin of progressives such as myself, Obama has even put entitlement reform on the table and generally agreed to deep spending cuts. (Discretionary spending is currently at its lowest level since Eisenhower.) And Republicans have refused at every turn to compromise. Yes, Boehner and others have floated concessions here and there, but by and large Republicans object to revenue increases of any kind and have repeatedly voted, in the House, to defund Obamacare. And even when they have to agree, like over the debt ceiling, they play politics in an attempt to extract whatever they can from the Democrats.

So there's no way they want to have a serious conversation.

No, what they want to do here is create a situation where the narrative could turn against the other side. By getting out of the corner and sitting down at the table with Democrats, Republicans could seek to gain control of this crisis by blaming Democrats for not negotiating in good faith, and for not compromising, even though, of course, they would be the ones doing neither.

And it could work. In a town dominated by a "centrist," David Broder-enamored media and political establishment that generally hypes "fiscal conservatism" as understood by center-right Republicans, Republican rhetoric generally plays well. As does the both-sides-are-to-blame narrative. And so even if they couldn't succeed in pinning the blame on Democrats, Republicans could at least get on an even footing with them, potentially swaying public opinion in their favor and forcing them to give in and agree to Republican-friendly terms to "resolve our differences."

Really, at this point, it's all they've got.

But are Democrats that gullible? Would they really agree to this? Thankfully not, for once:

Senate Democratic leaders aggressively shot down the House GOP's new supercommittee-like plan on Tuesday, sticking by their insistence that they won't negotiate on the budget until Republicans vote to re-open the government and avert default.

"Open the government, pay our debts, and then we're eager to negotiate on anything," No. 3 Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) told reporters on Tuesday. "But another gimmick which says, 'While we shut the government down, and while we're threatening default, come to the table' -- it doesn't work like their previous gizmos didn't work."

Now, Democrats shouldn't be "eager to negotiate on anything," and there is ongoing concern they'll give way too much in budget talks, but for now, at least, they're standing firm.

Republicans are desperately searching for a lifeline. There's no way Democrats should give them one.

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