Saturday, April 9, 2011

When they're willing to kill the hostage

From Matt Yglesias:

Details on the appropriations deal are still hard to come by, but you don’t need the details to know that substantial short-term cuts in domestic discretionary spending will hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. The problem with not agreeing to the deal, of course, is that a government shutdown would also hurt the poor while harming macroeconomic performance. If you genuinely don’t care about the interests of poor people and stand to benefit electorally from weak economic growth, this gives you a very strong hand to play as a hostage taker. And John Boehner is willing to play that hand.

What Yglesias is hinting at here, but doesn't come out and say, is that a hostage-taking strategy works very well if you're willing to kill the hostage but the other side isn't willing to let that happen. In that scenario, the deck is stacked.

People who are screaming about Obama and the Democrats needing to be willing to "draw a line in the sand" need to understand that drawing that line means you're willing to let the hostage die over it. That's the calculation. In the case of this budget deal, we can see that the Democrats were willing to let the government shut down (ie, let the hostage die) over funding for women's reproductive health. But they weren't willing to do it over $39 billion in budget cuts. Since we haven't yet seen the details of where that $39 billion will come from, I'd say its a bit pre-mature to say whether or not that's a good bargain.

But we're going to need to prepare ourselves for the next hostage-taking. It is going to come in about a month and involves raising the debt ceiling. This is something most voters won't instinctively understand, but the ramifications make a government shut-down pale in comparison.

We don't know yet what the Republican demands on this one will be. But Steve Benen lays out the stakes.

But while we wait for the ransom note, keep in mind that Republicans know they're playing with fire. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) recently said failing to raise the debt limit "would be a financial disaster, not only for us, but for the worldwide economy." Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said failure to raise the debt limit would lead to "financial collapse and calamity throughout the world." Fox News' Charles Krauthammer said the consequences would be "catastrophic." Fox News' Dana Perino said Republicans are inviting "economic disaster." George Will said policymakers would have to be "suicidal."

At this point, it appears that Republicans know all of this, but don't much care. They're the hostage takers, they're looking for "leverage," and they think they've found it.

I'm sure there's already been a lot of thought about what kind of price the Republicans plan on putting to this one. They already know that there is NO WAY Democrats are going to let this kind of economic disaster happen. We cannot afford to let this hostage die - no matter what. So we should prepare ourselves for something big.

And then we need to remember why we're having to play this game with people who are willing to kill this particular hostage. Yglesias spells it out.

I hope people remember this year next time large Democratic majorities produce an inadequate stimulus bill, a not-good-enough health reform bill, a somewhat weak financial regulation bill, and fail to deliver on their promises for immigration and the environment. It’s easy in a time like that to get cynical and dismissive about the whole thing. But there’s actually a huge difference between moving forward at a slower-than-ideal pace and scrambling to reduce the pace at which you move backwards. Now we’re moving backwards.

Elections have consequences. This is the price we pay for November 2010.

I suspect we'll have to bite the bullet and take it. Our next chance to solve this will come in 2012. We need to vote the hostage-takers out of office!


  1. Hi Smartypants,
    Thanks so much for your thoughtful posts. I love this site and I visit everyday.


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