Writing about specific proposals being floated about how to get Congress to address the looming debt ceiling is a bit crazy. There’s a new band of pols, a new gang or a new Grand Bargain (none of which are ever grand or bargains) every 36 hours. But the latest one is pretty remarkable, in that the Senate Democrats are now essentially offering the GOP everything that they want and are asking for nothing in return. Even for Democrats, this is remarkable.
Ezra Klein makes the case that the Republicans have won (duh) but likely won’t be able to take the victory and move on. But this is basically what President Obama said in his press conference Friday – that the Republicans are incapable of saying “yes.” Given that this is coming from both the President and Klein, a favorite outlet for administration thinking, it’s hard to see what the political plan of Democrats is at this point. From what I can tell and separate from any assessment of the policy content, the White House and Reid are implementing a strategy that looks like this:
- Give the GOP everything they want so that…
- The GOP rejects the Democrats’ deal that has everything they want
I really don’t know what #3 is meant to be. Obviously the President made a forceful case on Friday that the GOP is incapable of accepting a deal on their own terms and are trying to leverage this all to their electoral advantage. But to believe that giving the GOP what they want and expecting them to reject that is a winning political strategy, you have to believe that the American public is paying as close attention to the deficit debates as the most savvy political reporters in Washington. Or at leas that the general tone will be “Democrats tried to make a deal and Republicans wouldn’t accept it.” But even that doesn’t convey that the GOP would be rejecting what is essentially a Republican proposal.
Maybe I’m wrong that giving the GOP what they want and hoping they reject it is not the strategy currently being employed by Reid and the White House. But if it is, I don’t get the politics of it. The policy explanation is pretty straightforward – the outcomes sought by the White House and most congressional Democrats is not dissimilar from the outcomes sought by Republicans. The sole difference has, to this point (and with the exception of Bernie Sanders and the Congressional Progressive Caucus), been one of optics. Both sides have always proposed massive spending cuts, while Democrats have sought a fig leaf of tax increases on the rich and Republicans oppose any revenue increase.
The differences here between trying to evaluate a political argument around effective policy agreement here matter, simply because you have to presume that Obama does want to win reelection, as do Democratic members of Congress. Making similar policy proposals look different is important for them politically. If I had to make a guess, I’d think the administration is going to have #3 be a large part of what the reelection is about. Maybe the public will buy it, maybe they won’t. But I can’t say any of this approach makes me happy in the slightest to be associated with the Democratic Party.