Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Senate close to deal ending the shutdown, raising the debt ceiling, and further enabling Republican extremism and obstructionism

By Michael J.W. Stickings


Senate leaders are closing in on a deal to reopen the government and extend the U.S. debt ceiling until next year, marking a major breakthrough in an impasse that has paralyzed Washington and struck fears across the globe.

In a furious round of last-ditch negotiations, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell were discussing a proposal to reopen the government until Jan. 15 and extend the national debt limit until Feb. 7. The plan would also set up bicameral budget negotiations over major deficit issues, that are to conclude by Dec. 13.

Now, there's hardly any guarantee this would get through John Boehner's House. There's some cover here in forcing Democrats to negotiate, which is usually done on mostly Republican terms, but would the extremist Tea Party minority of Republicans in the House, goaded on by the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, really agree to anything without major concessions like Obamacare defunding and/or, oh, I don't know, the immediate obliteration of Social Security? (There would have to be concessions on both sides in any deal, and the ones reportedly in this one are relatively minor.)

But let's assume this deal were to go through? Is it a good one?

Well, it could be worse. Apparently Democrats have rejected McConnell's proposal to prevent the Treasury Department by law from using "extraordinary measures" to deal with the debt ceiling and prevent the country from going into default. (When you're dealing with Republicans, you just can't agree to this. Given Republicans' dysfunctional extremism and rabid partisan obstructionism, you have to have recourse to such measures.)

My initial reaction, though, is that it's a bad deal. Republicans hold the country hostage, shut down the government, threaten economic catastrophe, and see their approval ratings collapse with most of the country blaming them for the shutdown, and what they get is more time to keep doing what they're doing and the opportunity to shift the focus to bipartisan negotiations where they're more likely to be able to control the narrative and redirect the blame for this whole mess onto Democrats?

Yes, this seems like capitulation on the Democrats' part.

At the same time, things could change. As this drags out longer and longer, the greater is the risk to Democrats, including to the president, that public opinion should turn on them. And the fact is, the Democrats are the responsible ones here. They know that the shutdown needs to end and that a debt ceiling increase is absolutely imperative (by Thursday). For his part, President Obama clearly wants a deal done. There's the not-so-little matter of the good of country, after all. And of course he doesn't want to be the president to presides over the country when it defaults on its debts and the catastrophe ensues. Simply put, if there's no deal by Thursday, all bets are off, and that alone should be enough for Democrats to work hard on a deal that is fair if not ideal.

So this has to happen, and maybe this has to be the deal. Ultimately, the Republicans are still the ones looking the worst from all this, and for Democrats nothing significant was lost.

But, again, what's the message here? Isn't it that Republicans can get away with it, that they can keep doing what they're doing, that they can hold the country hostage whenever they want without paying too steep a price for it? And that they can continue to stifle Obama's presidency simply by blocking anything and everything he proposes, even absolutely necessary things like raising the debt ceiling?

Yes, Democrats can continue to stand firm through negotiations, and hopefully they will, but, again, Republicans will be able to push their right-wing agenda as equals, more or less, at the negotiating table, and in any event all this would do is punt the problem down the road, setting up yet another debt ceiling battle early in the new year unless Democrats agree to even greater concessions over the budget.

The point is simply this: None of this is going to stop until Republicans are voted out of office and thereby prevented from using their clout, even as the minority party, from seeking to impose their political and partisan extremism on a country that appears more and more ungovernable by the day.

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