It’s not clear how this crazy day of fiscal strategery is going to end, given John Boehner’s new short-term debt limit increase bid, and now an emerging Senate GOP proposal to provide a longer term debt increase and a reopening of government in exchange for sacrifice of the medical device tax. But it’s important to understand the fundamentals of what Republicans as a party are trying to accomplish. Here’s my take from today’s Washington Monthly Political Animal:
What’s ultimately going on here is that congressional Republicans (and their “conservative base”) are determined to do something big on “entitlements,” despite their loss of the White House and the Senate in 2012. Yes, they are strategically divided between conventional conservatives pursuing Paul Ryan’s well-trod path of indirectly undermining the entitlement status of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid though stealth and gimmicks, and Tea Folk determined to make a frontal assault on Obamacare as the “tipping point” after which America lurches into socialist slavery. But it’s all part of the same big policy goal of stopping any extension of the New Deal/Great Society legacy and then reversing it.
But the Republican obsession with their version of what is so imprecisely referred to as “entitlement reform” is exceeded by another obsession of theological dimensions: opposition to high-end tax increases. Their nemesis, Barack Obama, has refused to give them “entitlement reform” (even a pale version of it) without high-end tax increases. So they are stymied unless fearful liberals are correct that Obama will, with enough pressure, cave and give GOPers what they want without what they refuse to accept as a price. This whole hostage-taking exercise is a test of whether they can generate enough pressure to make Obama surrender his iron equation of “entitlement reforms” and tax hikes.
But despite continued progressive fears of an Obama “cave,” the hostage-taking hasn’t changed the fundamental equation:
Right now the big question is whether Obama will agree to budget negotiations if they are linked explicitly or implicitly to a threat to keep the government shut down or to default on the debt. So what if he “caves?” Does that get Republicans “entitlement reform” without a tax increase? No, not unless Obama caves again during the actual negotiations. And remember this: any “grand bargain” would have to be approved by Congress, which is composed of Democrats who will fight the kind of “entitlement reform” Republicans want to the last ditch and Republicans who will do the same to kill any tax increase. (BTW, this kind of “grand bargain” is certain to be unpopular with the public as well).
So forget about what DC pundits and the No Labels folk are saying: we are no closer to a a “grand bargain” than we were before all this nonsense started.
That doesn’t mean that Republicans may not be able to secure some spending reductions (in fact, they already have thanks to the Democratic acceptance of sequestration-levels on spending) in exchange for allowing the country to function. But their “grand” strategy has failed.