Monday, July 25, 2011

The politics of the debt ceiling crisis: Republicans seeking to shift blame onto Democrats, but Obama needs to stand firm

I wrote yesterday that Republicans, completely unserious about trying to do anything substantive about either the debt problem or the more immediate debt ceiling crisis, were looking for a way to turn the tables on Obama and the Democrats -- this after the president had successfully turned the tables on them, backing them into a corner, not least because he had public opinion on his side and because the Republicans are deeply divided over what to do (basically, financial establishment vs. Tea Party).

This is what's driving the GOP -- the politics -- and it's pretty much the only way GOP leaders on Capitol Hill can keep the party together (and not lose independents). Facing pressure from both sides, Boehner et al. have to find some way to have the Democrats take the blame for the country defaulting (and for the failure to deal with the deficit in any meaningful way).

Well, guess what?

As right-wing hack Jennifer Rubin wrote at WaPo, quoting Boehner's statement to House Republicans yesterday:

That suggests to me that the House Republicans will pass a bill, send it to the Senate and let the Democrats decide if they want to send the country into default.

What exactly did Boehner say?

You know, last week we passed the Cut, Cap & Balance Act and showed America our solution, our vision, as we did months ago with our budget. So we've done our job. And I think the nation knows it. But as you all know, the Senate tabled the Cut, Cap & Balance Act. And I think the nation knows that, too. So the question becomes — if it's not the Cut, Cap & Balance Act itself — what CAN we pass that will protect our country from what the president is trying to orchestrate?

The White House has never gotten serious about tackling the serious issues our nation faces — not without tax hikes — and I don't think they ever will. The path forward, I believe, is that we pull together as a team behind a new measure that has a shot at getting to the president's desk. It's won't be Cut, Cap & Balance as we passed it, but it should be a package that reflects the principles of Cut, Cap & Balance. We're committed to working with you — and with our Republican colleagues in the Senate — to get it done. No one is willing to default on the full faith and credit of the United States.

And I think the leaders in both parties and both houses of Congress already agree that we need significant reductions. But if we stick together, I think we can win this for the American people... because I do think there is a path. But it's gonna require us to stand together as a team. It's gonna require some of you to make some sacrifices. If we stand together as a team, our leverage is maximized, and they have to deal with us. If we're divided, our leverage gets minimized.

Rubin's a fool, but she's a connected one, and she's someone insiders leak to. What's interesting here, though, is that she's revealing, in its utter nakedness, the cynical game her beloved Republicans are playing.

On the merits, Boehner's case is completely dishonest. Obama has been extremely serious about working on a bipartisan deal, even going so far as to put cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the table, all while positioning himself essentially as a moderate Republican alienating the Democrats' progressive base. He has actually proposed massive spending cuts with only minimal revenue offsets. Significant tax hikes aren't on the table, just letting the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy expire and closing some loopholes.

This is why Paul Krugman can write a compelling post entitled "President Pushover." Obama is a pushover, in the eyes of many on the left (including me), because he has signalled time and time again that he is prepared to give Republicans most of what they want, that he is willing to cave to their demands. Maybe not all of them -- no, he supposedly remains committed to some progressive principles -- but enough to suggest that any deal would be heavily Republican-oriented. In saner times, Republicans would have jumped at what Obama was offering them. Now, dogmatic right-wing extremism having taken hold of the party, they can't even see what's right in front of them. Or if they can see it, they're just too crazy to accept it.

What's more, CCB was DOA, a reflection of that dogmatic right-wing extremism that would have required the Democrats to give up everything they believe in. It was never going to go anywhere, it wasn't an effort at compromise, and it's ridiculous of Boehner to hold it up as a viable plan. (It makes you wonder if he was ever serious about working out a deal with Obama. Or was that all for show as well? Or is he just flailing about without much rhyme or reason other than self-preservation? Cantor, after all, is similarly flipping and flopping.)

Just as it's ridiculous of him to say that "the nation" is on the Republicans' side. Wishful thinking, but it's not.

But you can see clearly what's going on here, what they're going to do and how they'll spin what they've done. Indeed, the talking points pretty much write themselves: "We tried to work with Obama and the Democrats to get something done for the American people, but all they wanted was tax increases. They rejected our sincere and reasonable efforts. It's not our fault the country will default. Blame them!"


As they have been throughout this process, with genuine crisis upon us, the Republicans are being completely dishonest. And their only hope -- and they know it, which is why there's desperation behind the machismo -- is to bet on the utter ignorance of the American people and the media's willingness to give them a free pass by taking their bullshit at face value and reporting it without a trace of serious analysis.

Do they think they can succeed? Sure, why not? They often succeed mainly because of public ignorance and the media usually act as their uncritical enablers, as a huge megaphone through which they can communicate their dishonesty.

Will Obama and the Democrats let this happen? Will they stand firm and refuse to let the Republicans define the narrative? Who knows? They've let it happen so many times before, on issue after issue.

What I do know, as I also wrote yesterday, is that they'd be crazy not to take advantage of their current position, with public opinion on their side and with Obama commanding the bully pulpit, and keep up the pressure on the Republicans.

Simply put, Boehner can't be allowed to get his way. Not with America desperately needing the Democrats to win both the policy and the politics of the debt ceiling crisis.

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