Thursday, May 9, 2013

The toughest gig in political punditry

The biggest challenge for political pundits these days is to try to explain the Republican position on the federal budget. If you're willing to hang in with me a while, I'll show you why.

Back in January the big thing Republicans were concerned about was something called "regular order." That meant that what they wanted was for both the Senate and the House to pass a budget and then go to conference to iron out the differences between the two. They were so very serious about all this that they passed legislation that tied Congressional salaries to its implementation.
Under the bill, Republicans will seek to raise the debt limit to allow government borrowing through mid-April — long enough, they say, to give both chambers time to pass a budget for the next fiscal year. If either chamber failed to adopt a budget by April 15, that chamber’s members would then have their congressional pay withheld.
So here we are in May and both Houses have passed budgets. But now all of the sudden, the Republicans are blocking "regular order" by being unwilling to appoint members to a conference committee.

What changed between January and now? Other than Democrats calling their bluff on the whole thing about "regular order" being a total smoke screen, deficit reduction as the primary end goal for Republicans has slipped right out from under them - so much so that the debt ceiling won't need to be raised again until October.

Yesterday Rep. Paul Ryan came right out and said that Republicans won't come to the table to negotiate on the budget without creating a hostage crisis over the debt limit.
Without that leverage, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday, there is no point in opening formal budget negotiations between the House and the Senate, because Democrats have no reason to consider the kind of far-reaching changes to Medicare and the U.S. tax code that Republicans see as fundamental building blocks of a deal.

“The debt limit is the backstop,” Ryan said before taking the stage at a debt summit organized by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation in Washington.
Think about that for a moment...what Ryan is saying is that their political hand on these negotiations is so weak that they don't have a prayer of prevailing unless they hold the entire global economy hostage.

But even on that one Greg Sargent suggests that they are sending mixed messages.
Republicans are not willing to enter into fiscal negotiations without being able to wield the threat of crashing the economy to get their way — even as they have already revealed they are not willing to actually crash the economy to get their way. We already know Republicans are not willing to allow default. As you’ll recall, they caved during the last debt ceiling fight. More recently, John Boehner flatly admitted: “I’m not going to risk the full faith and credit of the federal government.”
In the end though, you have to ask what is the Republican goal for the hostage crisis they are pretending to want to create. The fact is...they don't know.
The GOP conference will meet May 15 to discuss the idea of linking tax reform to the debt limit, but early indications suggest that would be a tough sell with many in the party’s rank and file.

Some Republicans say that framework is insufficient and that they’ll need spending cuts as well as tax reform to raise the debt ceiling. Others in the conference say that only the full enactment of tax reform will be enough to raise the nation’s borrowing limit and that incremental progress toward completing tax reform is not enough.
In other words, Republicans can't figure out if they want to grow the deficit with tax reform or shrink the deficit with more spending cuts.

So if you're a political reporter who's job it is to explain the Republican position on the budget to the voting public, how in hell do you do that? My suggestion would be that you join those of us who are calling the Republican position post-policy. That might be the kindest thing we can say about it.

1 comment:

  1. I doubt that will work. The Pundit class has shown they're more than willing to promote whatever comes out of the mouths of the Republicans no matter how illogical it sounds. They won't challenge it. They'll just come up with another false equivalence to explain it away. They're good at that and they've been getting away with it for years now. The Republicans not making sense is no bar to reporting their ramblings verbatim.

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