Tuesday, October 08, 2013




Of Two Johns


Sometimes a centrist writes something so remarkably naive that one is moved to ask:  was he writing while under the influence? did he write during a sort of dream sequence? did a Republican break into his home, put a gun to his head, and persuade him to write such gibberish?

And so Slate's John Dickerson has an idea how to end the budget showdown.   He writes

The House would pass a “clean” debt limit increase and clean continuing resolution to keep government funded, which is what the president wants. Then there would be a side agreement cooked up by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Boehner that would include something that Republicans want. That agreement would name budget conferees to debate the big issues of spending, taxes, entitlements, and economic growth, and it would include some guarantee—probably in the form of a stick—to make sure the conferees did their work.

The pain would have to be more than just holding members’ paychecks because the stakes are higher now. Such pain mechanisms used to be considered a joke, but the no budget/no pay gimmick worked—the Senate did pass a budget after all. Sen. Rob Portman has a bill intended to end dysfunction in the budget process by steadily decreasing funding if there is no budget—a version of that scheme might be adapted to help members focus or face cuts to popular programs. Perhaps a version of that could be bolted on to this side agreement. Or, the debt limit increase could be of short duration to help focus the discussions.

You know he wrote that- I couldn't have made it up. This is worse than even setting up another supercommittee, which Dickerson acknowledges it is tantamount to. If there is agreement for a steadily decreasing funding if there is no budget, no budget would trigger no funding.  Doubtless Republicans would have a field day with that, stalling and avoiding agreement on a budget, knowing that the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is slow death to programs which aid the poor, the elderly, the jobless, the middle class. Or what they call "nirvana."

Dickerson wasn't done.  He recommends a "side-agreement" to include discussion of "Medicare-means testing and changing the inflation formula for cost of living adjustments in Medicare, often referred to as chained CPI." That way, presumably, we can cut benefits across the board for the elderly (through chained CPI) while eventually turning Medicare into a welfare program by means testing. In Dickerson's dream state, Republicans surely would want to maintain a program in which the affluent pay to help out the elderly who aren't as well-off.

Obviously, making such major concessions to the GOP would validate its strong-armed tactics.  The editors of the Detroit Free Press note Republicans are

shifting their hostage-taking to the nation’s credit, saying they won’t vote to pay for what America has borrowed until they get concessions on Social Security and Medicare.

The destructive pattern is a threat to stable governance.

Actually, let’s be clear about who’s behind the blackmail here. Right now, according to many sources there are enough Republican votes to end this nonsense. But the tea party faction of the GOP has cowed its leadership. House Speaker John Boehner now says there’s no way he’ll offer or support a “clean” bill to raise the debt limit, even though he offered one last spring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Boehner also says he doesn’t have the votes to get the government back open without some changes to health reform, despite what many others seem to say.

So here we are. A week into a shutdown that is yanking billions out of the economy and threatening people’s livelihoods. A week away from the nation defaulting on its debt payments, which could trigger another economic meltdown.

In a sense, the GOP is embracing the strategy of the Confederacy: The party is willing to sink the republic to preserve its own ideology. There’s no point to government at all if it’s not going to operate. And if America doesn’t pay its bills, then it’s not an economic superpower — it’s a deadbeat. But the tea party is willing to claim victory behind either one of those outcomes.

The president isn’t negotiating, and shouldn’t.

Much has been written exploring the motives of the Repub obstructionists.  On the surface, it is about repealing the Affordable Care Act.   But House Speaker John Boehner- who holds the key to averting the crisis- seems not to be obsessed with the ACA, and almost everyone recognizes that the President is not likely to tinker with reform which has come to bear his name. But while the aim may be dismantling Obamacare, the goal may be, as the Free Press inadvertently suggested, the disembowlement of government.

There is, in fact, "no point to government at all if it's not going to operate."    While faith in government erodes with each passing day due to GOP machinations, Republicans pray the raison d'etre of the pro-government party is dealt a blow.   Support for functions of government declines (as would result with means-testing of Medicare) and social programs would be cut.  Defense programs would remain sacrosanct while a big hole is torn in the social safety net.

That may be difficult for the likes of John Dickerson to understand.  After all, he maintains that without significant concessions, "Boehner may be helpless to move his members toward a deal."   Anyone who still believes the John Boehner is "helpless" and a captive of the "Tea Party" probably believes also the Speaker's party has only the interests of the nation at heart.



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