Let’s do a quick recap to figure out how where we are on negotiations to come up with a better spending and tax plan than the one set to take effect on January 1, 2013
The January 1, 2013 deadline was set two years ago by this same congress as part of a bargain to resolve another artificial crisis. That artificial crisis was created by newly elected Tea Party Republicans who refused to allow the government to borrow the money required to pay for things that Congress had already approved purchasing. At the time, both parties agreed to put in place a series of spending and tax cuts so severe that both parties agreed it would force a compromise.
The date for that compromise as well as decisions about a number of related items including Bush tax cuts, exemptions from the Alternative Minimum Tax, FICA reductions, and extensions to unemployment benefits was purposely set after the 2012 election. The thought was that the voters should have an opportunity to weigh in on these issues.
Republicans were so confident that they were going to win the 2012 election that they admitted that they didn’t have an alternate plan to deal with all of these issues if they lost. Their plan if they won was to pass the Romney budget and make the Bush tax cuts permanent.
The voters DID express their opinion.
The Democrats won the election which included a promise to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.
After the election President Obama and House majority leader Boehner began negotiations. The following graph shows how those negotiations progressed.
When negotiations broke down, Boehner and Obama were $200B apart on tax revenue and $200B apart of spending reductions. Boehner had conceded that taxes on wealthy people had to go up. Obama had conceded that future spending on Social Security and Medicare should be adjusted. All that remained to close this deal was split the difference on the numbers and work out the remaining details. Obama still had to sell this deal to his reluctant Democrats in the Senate and Boehner had to do the same with his reluctant Republicans in the House. It was those House Republicans who killed the deal when they refused to back the fall back “Plan B” bill that Boehner introduced to improve his bargaining position with Obama. Rather than strengthen Boehner, this bill demonstrated that Boehner didn’t have the Republican support he needed any of the offers he made to Obama.
The same Republicans who wanted to put these questions to the voters now appear perfectly willing to ignore the will of 2012 voters.
At this point, the only deal than can pass in the few remaining days before this Congress ends, is one that comes from a compromise in the Senate that would allow a majority of Democrats to pass a bill that then would also pass the House. This would require two things. First, Senate Republicans would have to agree to allow such a bill to come to a vote rather than filibuster it. Second, at least 26 House Republicans would have to support the bill along with the 191 Democrats.
The good news is that it if this Congress fails to get this done, the new Congress will have some time in January to act before these tax increases and spending cuts really take effect. In the new Congress, Democrats only need 17 House Republicans to pass a bill. Failing to get this deal done before the end of the year will continue to erode the confidence in the global community that the United States is capable of managing its own affairs.
The bottom line is that we live in a democracy.
We get the government that we vote for.
In 2010 voters sent a lot of “no compromise” Republicans to the House. Those members exerted their power to create this crisis and don’t appear included even after their 2012 defeat to change their behavior. While there are fewer of these sort in the new Congress, a significant number were sent back to continue the work that they began in 2010. Many of those re-elected, benefited from 2010 Republican majorities in state legislatures who took advantage of the redistricting process to create “safe” Republican districts for their representatives.
Here are just a few recent examples of Republican dysfunction.
Senate Republicans recently rejected the UN Convention on the Rights of People With Disabilities. This treaty was negotiated and signed by GW Bush. Bob Dole came to the Senate floor in his wheelchair to lobby for its passage. It essentially requires other countries to improve to our level of protection for the disabled, without requiring us to change any laws. It has already been ratified by 126 countries. Rick Santorum, who holds no elected office, lead the Tea Party charge to defeat the bill based on some loony concept of U.S. “sovereignty” which essentially calls into question the whole premise of the United Nations.
We had the embarrassing moment earlier this month when Senate Minority Leader McConnell called for a vote on Obama’s proposal to change the method in which the debt ceiling is extended. He was hoping to create an embarrassing moment for Democrats on the issue. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid agreed to an immediate up or down vote, McConnell was forced to filibuster his own bill in order to prevent it getting passed.
Several days later, we have the Boehner Plan B debacle where he had to admit that he didn’t have the power to negotiate a deal with Obama on the fiscal cliff.
Tom Friedman summarized it best quoting James Carville in a recent column entitled “Send in the clowns”.
The political obsessions of the Republican base — from denying global warming to defending assault weapons to opposing any tax increases under any conditions, to resisting any immigration reform — are making it impossible to be a Republican moderate, said Carville. And without more Republican moderates, there is no way to strike the kind of centrist bargains that have been at the heart of American progress — that got us where we are and are essential for where we need to go.
But if Republicans continue to be led around by, and live in fear of, a base that denies global warming after Hurricane Sandy and refuses to ban assault weapons after Sandy Hook — a base that would rather see every American’s taxes rise rather than increase taxes on millionaires — the party has no future. It can’t win with a base that is at war with math, physics, human biology, economics and common-sense gun laws all at the same time.
The problem is NOT one of leadership. Clearly both Obama and Boehner made significant concessions and had a deal on the table that made both parties uncomfortable. But that deal didn’t get done because a significant portion of the elected Republicans in the House blocked it.
If some voters continue to reward the sort of terrorist behavior that we’ve seen from Tea Party Republicans, there is precious little that can be done. Our system allows them to effectively shut down the government, if that’s what they choose to do and they have the votes to do it. At this point, this group appears determined to raise taxes on everyone, cut spending, and likely cause a recession rather than accept a compromise with a President they despise.
As far as what we do in the meantime, we trust in the wisdom of voters to fix the problems created in 2010. Ronald Reagan said it best during his debate with Jimmy Carter, “We don’t negotiate with Terrorists”.