Friday, July 29, 2011

Made in the GOP

Republicans Seek Credit for a Debt Ceiling Solution

It's pretty clear at this point that the debt ceiling debacle isn't about spending cuts and tax increases and entitlement reform and balanced budget amendments.

It's about 2012.

That is the only logical explanation for the Republican Party's blanket opposition to every attempt by Democrats to solve this impasse over an otherwise routine debt limit increase. Republicans need something they can campaign on in 2012.

After three years of saying no to everything – health care reform, Don't Ask Don't Tell repeal, the Dream Act, a nuclear treaty with Russia, the Libya intervention, unemployment benefits, and most recently the debt ceiling increase itself – Republicans need a legislative victory they can show off to the voting public.

They fared well in the midterm election by campaigning against policies that were already on the books, but they've failed to achieve any of the repeals and nullifications they placed at the center of their 2010 campaign: "Obamacare" is still in place, the stimulus bill was not reversed, and the debt continues to grow.

They also failed to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood and NPR, to gut the regulatory oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, and to turn Medicare into a voucher program. As for the far-right Tea Party conservatives out there who thought the 2010 election would mark a turning point for the morality of the United States, every day is another reminder that Republicans have also failed to make abortion illegal, to replace biology with Intelligent Design in our nation's schools, to abolish the IRS and the Department of Education, to return to the gold standard, and to protect our government against Sharia law with a constitutional amendment.

They cannot win another election simply by campaigning against everything, especially not when they've fallen short of achieving any of the goals they sought. Republicans need a legislative victory. This debt ceiling fight may be the last opportunity to campaign for something in 2012. (God knows they can't point to the 2011 budget negotiations and boast about how they slashed the deficit; according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the bill they agreed to eventually ended up costing $3.2 billion, not saving the $78 billion they claimed.)

And that is why Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor stormed out of negotiations last month. It's why Speaker John Boehner abandoned negotiations with President Obama last week. Every deal Democrats have offered, whether to slash government spending by $4 trillion or to cut entitlements, may have been a capitulation to Republican demands; it may have been snatched up without pause by any other Republican Party; but it was still offered by Democrats.

Democrats are the opponents, and accepting a deal crafted by the enemy is sacrilege in Washington, D.C., today – even if doing so provides a means to achieving the ends you campaigned on in the last election.

Republicans need to draft their own bill. They need to prove that they are capable of governing, of leading. They must be able to demonstrate to their constituents that the Grand Old Party represents more than obstruction. They need to pass a law that has a "MADE in the GOP" label on it.

And so they did. Or tried.

It was titled the "Cut, Cap and Balance" bill, and it did everything Republicans wanted. It cut spending, capped total outlays based on average GDP growth, and called for an amendment to the Constitution requiring balanced annual budgets. (See "The Balanced Budget Amendment that Wasn't")

Despite being heralded by Speaker John Boehner as a "bipartisan bill," CC&B passed along party lines in the House, receiving only five Democratic votes to 229 from Republicans. Not a single Democrat voted for it in the Senate.

In a speech following the president's national address on the debt ceiling crisis, Boehner claimed, "there's no stalemate here in Congress." It wasn't his only false claim.
"I want you to know," he said, "I made sincere effort to work with the president, to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of 'Cut, Cap and Balance' in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law."

The bill "could" secure bipartisan support if it were a bipartisan bill, but it didn't because it isn't – and neither was the proposal Boehner came up with after Democrats rejected the CC&B bill in the Senate.

CBS News poll

In attempting to solve one problem, Republicans have created another. Like everything Republicans have proposed this year – repealing health care reform, eviscerating the EPA, defunding public radio – Boehner's proposal is slated for failure because it makes no concessions to Democrats.

What's more, not only will the new proposal fail to garner bipartisan support in the upper chamber, it is also failing to unite Republicans in the House.

Rep. Jim Jordan, standing alongside Boehner at a press conference, thanked the speaker "for fighting for Republican principles," but said "I cannot support the plan that was presented to House Republicans this afternoon."

Instead, Jordan is urging Republicans to stick with the CC&B proposal, even though it couldn't garner a simple majority in the Senate; even though it requires a supermajority to pass.

Republicans have found their footing with a bill that the majority of Republicans support, but they have isolated their opposition such that voting on their bill represents nothing more than a symbolic gesture aimed at creating the perception of party unity.

Boehner's speakership is on the line. The Republican Party's majority hold over the House may be in jeopardy, as well. A strong majority of the American people have shunned the GOP for holding up a deal to avert default. A strong majority supports tax increases. A strong majority supports compromise.

Any debt ceiling deal that cuts federal spending, reduces the national deficit, and averts disaster by preventing U.S. default will be seen by voters of both sides as a policy victory for the ages.

Republicans appear incapable of taking the steps that are necessary to allow them to claim even partial credit in that historic deal. They cannot accept anything they themselves didn't create, and they cannot make concessions that will allow Democrats to accept anything they did create.

Congress is no closer to a debt ceiling agreement today than it was six months ago, and the Republican Party's goal of having a legislative record on which they can base their 2012 campaign is still out of reach.

At this point, Plan B is likely a repeat of the 2010 "blame Obama" strategy.

Unfortunately for Republicans, public opinion polls consistently show a "blame Republicans" mentality.

According to the latest CBS News poll, 71 percent of the American public holds Republicans responsible for the impasse.

If the United States defaults, Democrats would be wise to take a page from the Republican Party's 2010 campaign playbook. A "repeal the GOP" platform could prove effective in 2102.

Then again, if Republicans let the nation default, Democrats might not have to campaign at all.

(Cross-posted at Muddy Politics.)

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