Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Compromise Roundup

So, after watching and reading the professional pundits for a couple of days, what seems to be the consensus on the deal that went down late Friday night? I'd say that no one is very happy about it, except for the hard-working Americans who would have been forced to take time off without pay because the idiots in Congress couldn't get their crap together. While it's obviously a critical win for them, pretty much everyone else seems to feel like losers.

Republicans claim they're playing nice on this round in order to gear up for the 'real' fight over the next budget. They said that will be the key, and that will be a fight over 'trillions not billions'. Uh-huh. Right. Sure. We'll come back to this in a minute, but first...

The response from the Right is pretty mixed. Some think it's not a bad deal at all:

A lot depends on how you viewed the stakes and the risks. If you thought cutting a few tens of billions more in spending this fiscal year would make a major difference in the country’s future, and/or thought a shutdown would be a political winner for Republicans, you have to be disappointed that Boehner didn’t push it further.

Since I believed neither of those things to be true, I had low expectations. ... Overall, it looks like a very modest win in a very modest game.

Up next is the debate over the debt ceiling, which offers the possibility for imposing much more consequential, far-reaching restraints on spending. And it’s always worth remembering that the fundamental problem here really isn’t a lack of guts so much as a lack of the Senate and the White House. Get both of those things in 2012, and we’ll be talking trillions rather than billions in cuts and Planned Parenthood will not get another thin dime of federal money.

I would argue that the actual number is less relevant than the question of who has the political advantage heading into the much larger fights over the debt limit and the Ryan budget. And when I see Harry Reid and Barack Obama boasting about how much spending they have just agreed to cut, I am inclined to view that as a considerable political achievement for Republicans, from which to build on moving forward.

I am also thoroughly unconvinced by the notion that somehow Republicans “blinked” by cutting a deal rather than shutting the government down. From what I can tell, there are two assumptions behind this line of thinking. One is that Republicans could have won a better deal, could have gotten more of what they wanted, refusing to move an inch off their original $61 billion and allowing the government shut down. ...

The second is that Republicans would have won the “hearts and minds” debate in the public over who caused the shutdown. Polls suggest that voters are split in that regard, but a majority of independent voters favored a compromise. If a shutdown had occurred, I can’t imagine a scenario in which independents would have overwhelmingly rallied to the Republican cause. In 2010, they voted against “extreme” Democrats, not for “extreme” Republicans ...

At the end of the day, Democrats still control the White House and the Senate for two more years. Regardless of what happens in these next two years, the 2012 election is the ultimate endgame. ...

This may sound like “promising to fight the next time,” but the truth is that the real fight, which goes beyond the discretionary portion of the budget, hasn’t even started yet. If Republicans wimp out on the debt limit and/or fail to give a full-throated defense of their 2012 budget, then we’re all in big trouble. ...
That part about Indies voting against Dems rather than for Reps in 2010 is unquestionably true, and is a major concern for Reps trying to stage a long-term comeback. They can't push too hard too fast, without the numbers to ensure the victory. We have to deal with reality, not what we'd like reality to be. Still, much of the commentary from the Right is skeptical of just how much was cut, and mirrors my initial reaction: the GOP caved again and are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

To paraphrase Maggie Thatcher, the story of modern democracies is the left’s consistent turning of a screw into our collective gut, and when the right takes power, we don’t unscrew, we just hold the screw in place while we bleed to death. Each budgetary negotiation is not a discrete act, but is rather a process of setting the baseline for the next round. ...

So you say, but we’ll get them in FY2012! Let me ask you a serious question: Why on Earth would you think those negotiations will end differently? The House GOP just put a giant KICK ME sign on its collective rear. This negotiation is the baseline for the next, which unfortunately doesn’t mean bigger-and-better cuts, it means the Democrats know that they need only hold out until the next shutdown looms (or pick your crisis, really) and they know that the spineless weenies will cave in no time flat.

This is a war. We just ceded enormous ground in the first, pivotal battle because we were worried that we may lose other positions. Our troops are going to ask, not unreasonably, if our army couldn’t be bothered to advance the primary goal for which they were sent into the field, why we should think they’d bother with the others.

That is the hill on which we should be willing to die: Getting this monstrosity of a hole we’re leaving our children and grandchildren under control, even if it just means stopping the digging. Making the Democrats take ownership of funding with public money the murder of the unborn. Proving ourselves serious and committed and willing to take a knife in the chest to slice the other guy’s carotid (or femoral or whichever artery you prefer), knowing that knife will hurt but the other guy is gonna be on the edge of death for a long time after.

But: Blink.

With due respect, I think those who are praising the budget deal are deluding themselves. Under circumstances where we are trillions of dollars in debt, the GOP just caved on its promise to cut the relative pittance of $61 billion in spending because it’s just not worth fighting for more than the half-pittance of $40 billion Democrats claimed was their drop-dead number. “Drop dead” meant daring Republicans to shut the government down (which, as we know, doesn’t actually shut the government down). The Republicans blinked. ...

The only thing Boehner won is future assurance that GOP leadership can safely promise the moon but then settle for crumbs because their rah-rah corner will spin any paltry accomplishment, no matter how empty it shows the promise to have been, as a tremendous victory.

And what’s the rationale for settling? Why, that these numbers are so piddling — that the $21 billion difference is so meaningless in the context of $14 trillion — that it’s best just to settle, make believe the promise was never made, make believe we didn’t flinch, and put this episode behind us so we can begin the “real work” of the next promise, the Ryan Plan.

Regarding that plan, you’re to believe that the captains courageous who caved on $21 billion — and who got elected because of Obamacare but don’t even want to discuss holding out for a cancellation of $105 billion in Obamacare funding — are somehow going to fight to the death for $6 trillion in cuts. Right.

God knows if there is one lesson for the Republican leaders in this, it is that they can promise the moon, deliver dirt, and the sycophantic conservative media will pop fireworks, fly American flags, and proclaim that dirt the second coming of Jesus Christ.

It’s embarrassing really. ...

For perspective, the federal government spends $10.46 billion a day. The Democrats and Republicans have now come together to cut out just under 4 days worth of spending out of 365 days. ...

The Republicans absolutely caved on defunding Planned Parenthood. Sure, the GOP will get a vote in the United States Senate. They will lose that vote and even if they didn’t, the matter would get vetoed.
The GOP will also get a vote on defunding Obamacare in the Senate. They will lose that vote too. In fact, they already had that vote and lost once.

Both of these could be gotten at any time by Senate Republicans, so it is not as monumental as it seems.

For a year now the Republicans and Democrats have told us we have serious problems and need serious solutions. They’ve told us we have a serious budget deficit crisis. On Friday night the two parties came together and decided the crisis they’ve been telling us about really isn’t worth dealing with.

Sure, the Obamacare vote could be interesting to watch, but getting a vote on a hot button issue like this really isn't that impressive. I think that much of the Right feels betrayed yet again by elected politicians who promise one thing and consistently fail to deliver.

The one point that I think is extremely important but that has been vastly underreported is this (emphasis mine):
In the case of the punching bag that is the 2011 budget, avoiding a reversion to business as usual is the minimum the Congressional GOP had to achieve. It did that. There is an important sense in which this outcome has bought time: it almost certainly forestalls the decision of global finance planners to catastrophically disfavor the US economy and US securities.

That is a real possibility, if Republicans are decisively unable to halt the hurtling progress of our federal government toward fiscal insanity. The incremental success achieved by the GOP on Friday means that any assessment in that regard can – in fact should – be postponed. It’s an uneasy position for everyone, but it’s also better than any alternative. In terms of transparency, fairness, and public integrity, the United States and our fiscal management are still the best the world has got. Investment gurus love to maneuver against the dollar, but there is literally nothing that can do what it has done for the last 60 years.

That reality is based on the characteristics of American society and our political institutions, even more fundamentally than on our economy. Currency, fiscal accounting, and debt are all man-made constructs, not principles of the universe that operate, constant and indifferent, outside our conscious decisions. The mechanism that would render it impossible for us to manage our way out of our fiscal crisis is a loss of confidence in our character by the rest of the world. Other peoples stand to lose so much in their own right, if our character is judged to have imploded and our faith and credit to have become unreliable, that they are strongly motivated to postpone making that judgment.

The budget compromise on Friday gave them a reason to continue postponing it. There is another freighted confrontation coming up on 16 May, when money will run out if the debt ceiling is not raised. It’s important for Republicans to keep the trend going in the direction they’ve now established, however incremental the progress may be.

Trying to win the whole game on every play is a faulty approach, and one that has to be avoided. Republicans can force issues only in the House this year. It isn’t possible to override a presidential veto. Those are the constraints.

I've said this before, and I still believe it: we're teetering on the edge, economically speaking, and it won't take much more than a single massive event to push us off the cliff. A nuclear attack, another economic meltdown, or who knows what else could provide the catalyst for the world to turn away from the U.S. dollar and economy as the primary global driver of wealth creation. A number of nations are already pushing to eliminate the dollar as the standard for oil trading, and pushing for a single worldwide currency instead. The dollar itself is dropping in value as the Obama administration continues its policy of stacking debt upon debt and printing money to cover it. The assertion above about delaying that final catalyst event is very, very real, and something we need to keep in mind.

Of course, a friend of mine correctly points out that the liberal media isn't particularly happy with how Obama let this play out, so under the theory of 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', things apparently could have been a lot worse.

In what has become a typical move, Barack Obama (after sitting out the entire process) stepped in at the 11.9th hour to take credit for bringing both sides together. Amazingly, he also suggested that cutting $38 billion out of government spending somehow puts America back into living within its means. This is after increasing the government vacuum by 30% in the past two years, an annual increase of roughly $1 trillion. But hey, liberals never let the facts get in the way of a good spin, right?

In reality, we don't have a revenue problem, we -- or, more accurately, the morons in Washington -- have a spending problem. Maybe we should use the word addiction. Or obsession. Spending to a Washington politician is like the purple buzzing light to a mosquito. The next hit to a meth addict. You get the point.

So, there's the roundup. Though there are a few details that provide some silver lining, I stand by my initial reaction that this was a failure of the GOP, and no reassurance of better fights to come. You can read the facts for yourself and make up your own mind, and I hope you do; ignorance has gotten this country in a heap of trouble, and while we can work our way through political disagreements, we simply cannot afford mass ignorance any longer.

I will close with some more brilliance from the cartoon master, Michael Ramirez:

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