Friday, July 22, 2011

Closer, Probably

There is more good news than bad, or at least more significant good news than bad. Talking Points Memo reports that, unfortunately,

An urgent Saturday morning White House debt talks meeting between President Obama and Congressional leaders ended after less than an hour, a sign that both sides likely still remain in a stand-off.

But the President laid down a marker, somewhat, in his remarks (text, here) last night when he noted

Last point I’ll make here. I mean, I’ve gone out of my way to say that both parties have to make compromises. I think this whole episode has indicated the degree to which at least a Democratic President has been willing to make some tough compromises. So when you guys go out there and write your stories, this is not a situation where somehow this was the usual food fight between Democrats and Republicans. A lot of Democrats stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically. So we’ve shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on.

Although the President- inaccurately- characterized beltway differences of opinion as the "usual food fight," he did at least assert that this is not a "he said, she said" situation. One side, he noted, has "stepped up in ways that were not advantageous politically" while "we've shown ourselves willing to do the tough stuff on an issue that Republicans ran on."

Admittedly, it's a little late to start making this argument. The debt limit has been raised 89 times since 1939- all with clean bills and the current GOP leadership on Capitol Hill has voted 19 times to raise the debt limit. Saint Ronald himself once asserted

Congress consistently brings the government to the edge of default before facing its responsibility,” Reagan says in the clip. “This brinkmanship threatens the holders of government bonds and those who rely on Social Security and veterans benefits. Interest rates would skyrocket, instability would occur in financial markets, and the federal deficit would soar. The United States has a special responsibility to itself and the world to meet its obligations.”

Obama's comments were not dramatic or very powerful, but they did constitute what passes for healthy partisanship from this president: we're trying to prevent the destruction of the nation's, and perhaps the world's economy, and they're not. Even if our team is trying to do it by giving the other side almost everything they could have dreamt of.

But a more important factor is coming into play. Grover Norquist (the Americans for Tax Reform in the Americans for Tax Reform), who this past week explained that letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire would not constitute a tax hike, would constitute a tax hike, and might constitute a tax hike, apparently has been listening to his organization's corporate sponsors. Their identities remain, as permissible under law, a secret but Joe Conason, who recently interviewed Norquist, reports

Unlike the Tea Party Republicans, but much like his supporters in the business community, he is troubled by the potential consequences of an impending and unprecedented default. As Norquist told The National Memo today in an interview:

“I am not an advocate or adherent of the position I have heard some state, that a default would be ‘not a big deal’ or ‘would strengthen the hand of those arguing for limited government.’ I worry that handing the executive branch control over what bills to pay is not a wise move....even when they would have less cash to spend.”

Norquist went on to say that “a ‘shutdown’ or ‘default’ or ‘wobbly walk around the rim of default’ would be, as my mother would say, ‘unhelpful.’ How unhelpful? I don’t know, [and I’m] not real interested in finding out. Let’s experiment on a smaller country.”

Consistent with their campaign rhetoric, those "Tea Party Republicans" have firmly and virulently held firm against anything which approximates a tax increase. If they vacillate, equivocate, or show any sign of self-doubt (practically a capital offense in GOP politics, anyway), they may find themselves going the way of Bob Bennett. And that is in large measure because of Grover Norquist.

It's a sad, sad state of affairs that the economic viability of the United States may depend on pressure applied by the business community upon the political party it owns. But when the situation is this dire, it's better than the alternative.

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