Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hold onto your hats and strap on the safety belt for a bumpy ride!

It looks to me like the Republicans have decided to let the sequester go into effect in 11 days - unless their defense hawks can pull off a magic trick before then. That could explain some of the incoherent ramblings coming from the likes of McCain and Graham lately.

And so the media will howl with attempts to decipher who is to blame for this catastrophe...at least until the next crisis shapes up around mid-April. That's when Congress needs to either pass a budget or a continuing resolution to keep the federal government running. And in order to delay another round about the debt ceiling until May, Republicans insisted that each Chamber of Congress pass a budget or have their pay withheld.

In the Senate, that job will be in the very capable hands of Senator Patty Murray.
Murray promised a budget that would pursue a “balanced approach” that protects programs for the middle class.
The task of coming up with a House budget has been given to Paul Ryan. And in order to appease the lunatic wing of his party and get them to extend the debt ceiling until May, Speaker Boehner promised that it would be balanced in 10 years. Its important to keep in mind that Ryan's last budget didn't balance for 30 years.

And so sometime over the next 2 months, we'll see what Rep. Ryan comes up with. Given his track record, most sane folks assume it will simply be filled with smoke and mirrors. But one of the first questions will be whether or not he includes the $1.2 trillion in sequester cuts. If he does, that makes it kinda hard to call them "Obamaquester" and blame them on the President. It also likely ensures that he won't get support from the defense hawks for his plan.

In Ryan's last budget, one of the reasons why it didn't balance for 30 years is that he made a promise to protect Medicare in its current form for people 55 and older. To shrink it to 10 years probably means breaking that promise. And some folks in his own party are already starting to squirm about that.
“We are saying a 10-year balance — that’s tougher than the last Ryan budget,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), a former Budget Committee member and currently an Appropriations cardinal. “There could be a significant number of Republicans that say, ‘I’m not going there because it would be too dramatic.’ I have said to my constituents, nobody is talking about changing Social Security and Medicare if you’re 55 years or over.’ I’ve been selling it for three or four years that way. So have many other members. Well, to balance in 10, that 55 years is going to move up to 58, 59, 60. It makes us look like we’re going back on what we were telling people when we were trying to sell this.”
Its pure lunacy to think that we can balance the federal budget in 10 years with nothing but spending cuts. And yet that's exactly the corner Republicans have painted themselves into by pandering to the extremists in their party. Its all on Paul Ryan to put up or shut up.

For months now, Republicans have managed to demagogue this issue of the federal deficit - blaming President Obama while they hold their fragile coalition together simply on the basis of obstruction. It might be that their insistence on both houses of Congress producing a budget is what finally comes back to bite them in the shorts and produces a moment of truth for any remaining sanity in the Republican Party.

In the meantime, you might want to start preparing yourself now for a government shut-down in mid-April. Because that's where these Republican shenanigans are headed. And right on the heels of that will come another debt ceiling challenge the first of May. That means that Republicans will be facing the wrath of the American public - along with the financial industry and defense contractors - to finally come to their senses.  We'll see if they can pull that off.

I suspect that this is a show-down President Obama is prepared to have with Republicans and that any attempts to simply extend it (like the 2011 debt ceiling deal) will not be taken seriously. He signaled as much last October.
In the short term, the good news is that there’s going to be a forcing mechanism to deal with what is the central ideological argument in Washington right now, and that is: How much government do we have and how do we pay for it?

So when you combine the Bush tax cuts expiring, the sequester in place...we’re going to be in a position where I believe in the first six months we are going to solve that big piece of business.

It will probably be messy. It won’t be pleasant. But I am absolutely confident that we can get what is the equivalent of the grand bargain that essentially I’ve been offering to the Republicans for a very long time, which is $2.50 worth of cuts for every dollar in spending, and work to reduce the costs of our health care programs.
 There are two reasons that it will be different this time:
  1. The economy is basically back to pre-recession levels and there is less risk involved in such a show-down. During his first term, every move President Obama made was calculated to avoid upsetting the fragile recovery. Its different now. Sure, we still have a long way to go on things like unemployment, but to actually tackle that problem requires that we resolve this question.
  2. The majority of American voters said clearly in the last election that they support the plan of President Obama and the Democrats to take a balanced approach to deficit reduction. The lunatic fringe in the Republican Party overplayed their hand coming out of the 2010 mid-terms and the political tides have turned.
So this could be the big one folks. Hang onto your hats and strap on your safety belts - the ride is probably going to get bumpy for awhile.

2 comments:

  1. I'd like to see us manage that bumpiness by not responding to every single freak-out from the left. We can already script their fund-raising emails from rote. Let's focus on the prize, not the burning hair. The prize is breaking the GOP coalition.

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  2. The chair of our Maine Democratic Party wrote a great piece about the problem with a grand bargain--namely that the Republican Party's reason for existence now is to "blow up the existing order". It is a great read and fits in very well with what you write here.

    http://www.mainedems.org/blog/give-us-name-any-name

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