The House negotiations with Obama have broken down. Despite everything that people have been saying, this really isn’t a surprise. The standard narrative was that the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll freaked out the Republicans and caused them try to end the crisis that they’ve created. I agree that the poll pushed the Republicans into action, but only to limit the damage. They worked with Obama so they could get some good press. And it worked. Last night, MSNBC gave the Republicans fairly positive, if triumphalist, coverage. Now the GOP can hope that the polls will move in their direction, or maybe even that the Senate will save them.
Yesterday, Jonathan Chait nailed what was going on. No one I know of is as keen an observer of Paul Ryan as he is. And when he saw that Ryan was heading up these negotiations, he called foul, Paul Ryan’s Ridiculously Unfair Deal. The crux of the deal is that Obama would agree to cuts (“reforms”) in entitlements and the Republicans would agree to to suspend the Sequester. This is classic Paul Ryan.
I’ve known a lot of people like Ryan. They are smart, but not real smart. As a result of this, they over estimate their own cleverness and underestimate that of their opponents. But it isn’t just lack of brilliance. It is also arrogance. As much as I may have problems with Obama, I would never think I could run a blatant con on him. And that is what Ryan was doing.
To begin with, the whole Grand Bargain is a trap. It is a way for Republicans to get Democrats to cut Social Security. Most of the Republicans still wouldn’t vote for such a thing. So at the next election, the Republicans could scream, “Democrats cut your Social Security!” So Ryan might want to broker such a deal, but when it came down to it, even he wouldn’t vote for it.
But as Chait examples, it is much worse than that. Ending the Sequester would be a temporary measure that is renewed year to year. Changes to entitlements would be permanent. So Republicans could get their entitlement cuts forever in exchange for increased discretionary spending they could kill whenever they were back in power. A real bargain would be what Obama wants: permanent entitlement cuts for permanent tax increases. Even that’s a terrible idea, but at least it is somewhat equivalent. What’s more, over half the Sequester cuts are to military spending, which the Republicans are at least as keen to stop as the Democrats. But Paul Ryan, with his little brain and great big ego, figured he could slip this all past the president without anyone noticing.
So now it all goes back to the Senate, where we will probably get a clean continuing resolution for a year and a few month Debt Ceiling raise in return for an end to the medical device tax, that many Democratic politicians are eager for anyway. It’s not the worst deal. But it still provides the Republicans with positive encouragement to misbehave. Still, I’m inclined to take it. The problem is that allowing a debt default (In only 5 days!) would create a shock to our economic system. I’d like to think it would mean the end of the Republican Party. But it could actually make the party far more powerful. A bad economy was what allowed the relatively marginal Nazi Party to come to power in Germany. A 12% unemployment rate could cause the Tea Party to gain power, even though they were the ones who created it!
These are dangerous times. And the conservatives playing this dangerous game are not patriots. But sadly, that really does give them power.