Originally published on The Agonist
Was it just a week ago that President Obama was hanging tough, insisting he would never accept a debt ceiling package that excluded tax increases? In rejecting a six month extension of the debt ceiling, Obama said last week:
But there’s an even greater danger to this approach. Based on what we’ve seen these past few weeks, we know what to expect six months from now. The House of Representatives will once again refuse to prevent default unless the rest of us accept their cuts-only approach. Again, they will refuse to ask the wealthiest Americans to give up their tax cuts or deductions. Again, they will demand harsh cuts to programs like Medicare. And once again, the economy will be held captive unless they get their way.
Here is what Speaker of the House John Boehner said today about the debt ceiling package that has now been agreed to by the House and Senate leadership, along with President Obama:
Now listen, this isn’t the greatest deal in the world," he said, according to excerpts of the call provided to press by Boehner's office. "But it shows how much we’ve changed the terms of the debate in this town."
Boehner painted the deal as victory for the Republican party because it did not include revenues, which Democrats have long called for as part of a final deal.
"There is nothing in this framework that violates our principles," he said. "It’s all spending cuts. The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down." – source HuffPost
While it is true the Republicans held the economy captive in these negotiations, and while President Obama is certainly correct in predicting that they will do it again at the next opportunity (they’ll shut down the Super Congress next if they don’t get their way), it really helps the Republicans to be negotiating with a man who consistently backs down in confrontations.
Why Obama continues to do this on one issue after another perplexes people in his own party, but a consensus is beginning to emerge. Gone is the theory that Obama and his team are three-dimensional chess players, out-foxing the Republicans in the long term while they give up tactical ground in the short term. That leaves two theories: Obama is weak, or Obama is a closet Republican. The president gave a clue today, when he introduced his grand compromise:
Despite what some in my own party have argued, I believe that we need to make some modest adjustments to programs like Medicare to ensure that they’re still around for future generations.
So he’s a closet Republican after all. Let’s suppose we all agree that “modest adjustments to Medicare” are needed, as part of a bigger package of “entitlement reform” that President Obama has been talking about. Barack Obama leads the Democratic Party in negotiations with Republicans on all budgetary matters. He is already offering up entitlement reform and modest adjustments to Medicare, while his political opponents are offering up nothing in exchange. This has been going on for nearly three years, and at each step of the process the Republicans receive positive reinforcement: offer up nothing, demand more than you think necessary, and you will achieve both these goals.
The White House is promising that when the Super Congress, consisting of six Republicans and six Democrats, meets to decide the hard issues about defense cuts, entitlement reform, and tax increases, they are going to come back with a balanced package of these components. If they don’t, the “compromise” just achieved will force immediate cuts in defense and domestic spending. Notice, however, that it will force no immediate tax increases on the wealthy or any elimination of corporate tax loopholes. There is also a provision in this compromise which protects the Pentagon from any real cuts, because the forced reductions will only be imposed on defense-related budgets in places like the Department of State and Homeland Security.
If you are John Boehner, it is obvious what you have to do next. You appoint three tough-nosed Tea Party representatives to the Super Congress. They are there to stall and snarl up the discussions so that nothing can be agreed. You then let the “drastic” defense and domestic cuts take place, hardly any of which hurt your constituents in the military-industrial complex.
Stage two comes about when the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy are once again due to expire. The White House says the president can “use his veto pen to ensure nearly $1 trillion in additional deficit reduction by not extending the high-income tax cuts." This is of course laughable on the surface, because the president doesn’t have the guts to veto something the Republicans desperately want. But to ensure a favorable outcome, all Boehner has to do is take another hostage. One likely hostage target might be Michelle Obama – not literally, of course, but Boehner can threaten to reduce the budget for the Office of the First Lady to the bone. As the First Lady is the only member of this administration who is doing anything that might be construed as helpful to the average American, this removes Obama’s fig leaf that he is a Democrat.
Of course, by the time Obama gets around to dealing with the Bush tax-cuts, he might no longer be president, having lost his reelection a few months earlier because the Democratic Party was so dispirited it failed to show up at the polls. And why should it? Democrats worked their ass off for Al Gore – a man who could have changed history if he had been allowed to place the budgetary surplus in his lock box – only to find the Republicans along with their cronies on the Supreme Court stole the election. They did the same thing for John Kerry, and then again with candidate Obama, only to find that Obama’s fine words and promises were meaningless. What’s the point of voting if all you get is different reincarnations of George W. Bush?
The only political leader who is sounding skeptical of this new compromise is Nancy Pelosi. She says the House Democrats will look at the details, but they might not support the legislation. The leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, has called the legislation a “sugar-coated Satan sandwich.” Unfortunately, House Democrats don’t count, as they are in the minority.
Senate Democrats do count, however. What I would like to see is at least one Democratic senator filibuster this deal. It only takes one, and they wouldn’t have to hold the floor for long – just until midnight tomorrow. Maybe some other senators of conscience might join them, like Bernie Sanders, the independent. It might all be futile: the Senate leadership ought to be able to roust up at least 60 Democrats and Republicans to force cloture – after all, there are at least 40 Republicans in the Senate who should recognize a victory when it is handed to them by the President. And there ought to be at least 20 Democrats who are weak-kneed enough to be able to do Harry Reid’s bidding.
Still, it would be a small token of complaint from the Senate – a protest that Medicare and who knows what other “entitlements” are now being put on the chopping block of reform, which never stops at just one step, while the very wealthiest people in this nation are not called upon to give up any of their wealth in return.