Can This Divided Government Agree to Do No More Harm?
I’m now old enough to remember two federal government shutdowns.
Both turned out poorly for Republicans.
The difference this time was that every sane observer strongly suspected it was going to work out poorly for Republicans.
In the end, they won’t even get peanuts. They’ll get the discarded shells of peanuts.
The most infuriating, tear-out-your-hair reaction to the House GOP implosion came from Reps. Thomas Massie and Joe Barton, Republicans of Kentucky and Texas respectively: that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” No deal? Seriously? Ponder that for a moment: A faction of House Republicans, at the not-so-secret urging of Sen. Ted Cruz, noisily insisted on a foolish confrontation with Senate Democrats and the White House. Once that confrontation ended fruitlessly—as critics predicted it would—this faction skulked away and left its leadership dangling and embarrassed.
This is akin to goading a friend into a bar fight and then watching helplessly as he’s kneed in the crotch.
Make no mistake, though: the GOP leadership isn’t completely blameless. It had planned, too, on a dangerous confrontation over the debt ceiling. There is little reason, now, to believe that such an effort would have ended differently than this one.
Another round of negotiations over long-term budgeting, to be held between now and Dec. 13, will commence once this deal is enacted. Is there any hope for it? It’s hard not to be pessimistic. The eternal snag is as it always has been: there is no appetite within the GOP for exchanging higher tax revenues for entitlement reform. And contrary to Fox News pundit George Will, I think there’s little chance that President Obama will trade entitlement reform for sequester relief. As Jonathan Chait has noted, Democrats are unlikely to accept permanent cuts to mandatory spending in order to temporarily increase discretionary spending.
So we’re left the question, Can this divided government live with the status quo at least until the midterm elections?
Can it agree simply to do no more harm?