Over at The Plum Line, Jamelle Bouie argued that we’ve already gotten a Grand Bargain. He noted that the combination of the 2011 Budget Control Act, the Fiscal Cliff deal, and the Sequester accomplished what the Grand Bargain was supposed to do. He went further and argued that since the Republicans are still planning to extract spending cuts for raising the Debt Ceiling, it means that they never cared about the budget deficit. Instead, they just want to to “gut” the safety net. (That’s his mixed metaphor; don’t blame me.)
Well, kind of. It’s true that Republicans don’t care about the deficit. And they haven’t since Reagan. And they do want to destroy the safety net. But that is just part of their overall revolutionary politics where they obstruct all progress unless they get everything they want. According to Lori Montgomery at the Washington Post, one House Republican wants to use the Debt Ceiling to make late term abortions illegal. If the Republican Party weren’t so dangerous, it would be laughable.
But let’s not lose sight of what’s been going on with the Grand Bargain the last several years. It is Obama’s obsession. He’s the one who wants to be applauded for making the “tough” decisions like cutting Social Security and Medicare. The Republicans are too smart for that. The oh so Serious Paul Ryan has never been willing to cut Medicare for current beneficiaries or Social Security ever. Republicans certainly want to screw the poor, but they know who is voting for them: old and rich people. Democrats like Obama and Bill Clinton seem to care more about some vague idea of history than they do their base of voters. Remember in 2001 that in the name of being the Adult in the Room, Obama gave Boehner 98% of what he wanted.
I’m not sure what the Republicans are thinking about the Debt Ceiling. I tend to think that the Republicans really will blink when it comes down to it. They understand politics and will not destroy themselves on purpose. What most concerns me about this is how Obama will react. If we get down to one day before breaching the Debt Ceiling, I can easily see Obama placing panicked calls to Boehner and McConnell. At that point, he would offer anything. Block grant Medicaid? Fine! Tax cuts for the rich? Great! Ban all abortions? Fantastic! Just don’t crash our whole economy!
I’ve long argued that the modern revolutionary Republican Party is the fault of the Democrats—especially the New Democrats. Instead of standing firm for liberal values, they’ve moved ever closer to the Republicans on economic issues. It’s as though they think that if they just get a bit more conservative then we can all just get along. Of course, for each step the Democrats take to the right, the Republicans take two steps to the right. And that leads to Democratic politicians like Obama who call out to the media, “See?! I’m being reasonable and they’re not!” And the media just shrug, “Yeah, but you still aren’t reaching a compromise.”
I’m sure that history will be nicer to Obama than to the Republican opposition. But he won’t be held up as an FDR or a transcendent figure. I suspect he will be seen as naive. No reasonable person could believe that the Republicans really care the debt or the size of government. Of course, very few of the elites in the media and politics are reasonable people.