October 3, 2013

If there is one factor causing the current crisis, it may be this: Many House Republicans won’t let go of the idea that they still retain the leverage over Obama they enjoyed in 2011. That leverage was artificial and fleeting — the product of singular circumstances that have largely been reversed. But accepting this very idea represents abject surrender on their part — not only to them, but to their voters.

Today House Republicans continue to hold out against letting a “clean CR” funding the government pass with mostly Dems. Instead they will roll this fight into the debt limit battle, supposedly giving Republicans more leverage.

The Post’s Paul Kane has a great piece this morning detailing why House Speaker John Boehner is opting for this course. Boehner is so weak that he cannot afford to alienate House Tea Partyers twice — on the shutdown and again on the debt limit — so better to fight the good fight now and compromise in the debt limit fight, when the consequences of failure are far more dire. So Boehner is keeping Tea Partyers happy as long as possible. This anecdote captures it perfectly:

“We’re more united in the conference now than we’ve ever been,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, a second-term lawmaker. Eighteen months ago, the speaker “couldn’t pick me out of a lineup,” Farenthold said. “He now blows me kisses.”

That’s everything in a nutshell right there. Many House Republicans now demanding Boehner exercise maximum tactics to block Obamacare – such as Farenthold – were elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. Their formative legislative experiences included the heady debt ceiling showdown of 2011, in which Obama — badly weakened by the 2010 election results, and fully convinced Republicans would allow default, because an economic meltdown would ensure his 2012 defeat — bowed to the leverage the default threat gave them, resulting in the terrible 2011 austerity deal that still haunts us today.

But all those conditions are no longer operative. Obama won reelection decisively, and now it’s House Republicans who stand to lose the most politically from default and economic havoc. All indications are that Obama now believes he made a major mistake in 2011 and is determined not to repeat it. Indeed, now the incentives run strongly against legitimizing use of the debt ceiling as a tactic to extract concessions.

What’s particularly worrisome is that many House Republicans don’t seem to understand or accept any of this. Stuck in 2011, they continue to proceed from the premise that agreeing to fund the government at sequester levels, or raising the debt ceiling, represent leverage points for which they should be rewarded by concessions in return. It’s true Obama legitimized this idea in 2011. But today’s Tea Partyers don’t seem capable of understanding that this leverage was artificial, rather than an enduring fact – the product of circumstances that have dramatically shifted — and that Democrats are determined not reproduce those circumstances for them.

And so, when these lawmakers insist they must not “surrender” by funding government or raising the debt ceiling without unwinding Obamacare, what they really mean is that letting go of the very idea that those things give them leverage is itself surrender. One House conservative put it perfectly: “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.” Really? Why?

This makes the basic give and take of governing impossible, but these lawmakers have no incentive to drop this basic posture, because if they do, they risk a primary. Indeed, today’s CBS News poll finds 57 percent of Tea Party Republicans approve of shutting down the government over Obamacare. But 72 percent of Americans overall disapprove. And that means Boehner, at some point, must find a way out of this jam. But that in turn means he can’t “blow kisses” at Tea Party lawmakers forever.

* POLL SHOWS PUBLIC BLAMES GOP: More from the new CBS News poll:

Republicans in Congress receive more of the blame for the shutdown: 44 percent of Americans blame them, while 35 percent put more blame on President Obama and the Democrats in Congress…Majorities think the President and the Democrats in Congress (76 percent) and the Republicans in Congress (78 percent) should compromise in order to come to an agreement on the budget.

Meanwhile, 38 percent of Republicans say the GOP should stick to its positions even if it means no agreement.

* GOP LEADERS TRY FOR A “HAIL MARY”: David Drucker has a sobering piece detailing that House Republicans simply have no idea how to get out of the current mess. They are entertaining everything from more piecemeal votes (which will be rejected by Senate Dems) or a “grand bargain” that trades entitlement cuts for a debt ceiling hike (which would not actually be a “bargain,” since only Dems would be making concessions).

As noted above, all of this flows from the idea that funding the government at sequester levels, or raising the debt limit, without getting huge concessions in return, constitutes giving up something or surrendering.

* HOUSE GOP STILL TRYING FOR THAT “GRAND BARGAIN”: Robert Costa has more on the new “grand bargain” idea: Dems are dismissing it, because it would not involve Republicans conceding something on their end, i.e., new revenues, but it would involve entitlement cuts. However:

Boehner may have been “laughed at,” but that doesn’t mean the pitch is dead, at least according to House insiders. In conversations late tonight, several of them say it remains one of the best options for Boehner, who is struggling to balance the pressure to compromise with his conference’s conservative bent. On a personal level, he is said to still be upbeat about the prospect of using his CR conferees as negotiators on a broader package — even if Democrats are resistant.

Okay, but why would Dems ever accept this? If anything, this will only persuade Dems further that Boehner doesn’t know how to get out of this situation, making it more likely that they will refuse to budge.

* OBAMA: NO TALKS UNTIL GOP DROPS DEBT LIMIT EXTORTION: The President told Congressional leaders late yesterday that there would be no further fiscal negotiations until Republicans agree not just to reopen the government, but also to raise the debt limit. He reiterated that in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood, explaining the rationale this way:

“If we get in the habit where a few folks, an extremist wing of one party, whether it’s Democrat or Republican — are allowed to extort concessions — based on a threat of undermining the full faith and credit of the United States, then any president who comes after me, not just me — will find themselves unable — to govern effectively.”

What’s troubling is that Republicans can’t understand that the incentives strongly are for Dems to refuse to budge on this point.

* GOP BLACKMAIL POLITICS, IN A NUTSHELL: Relatedly, a great quote from Steve Benen:

There is no scenario in which House Republicans will accept concessions of any kind to reach a compromise. Indeed, it’s the whole point of extortion politics — GOP lawmakers threaten to harm Americans on purpose to ensure that compromises are never necessary for them. The “concession,” in Republicans’ minds, is letting the hostage go without pulling the trigger.

* NO EVIDENCE OBAMACARE IS HURTING JOBS: The Times talks to economists who set the record straight: There’s just no real evidence in the data that the law is hurting job and wage growth or leading to a higher proportion of part time employment. Economist N. Gregory Mankiw: “The data are not really there to reach any firm conclusions. Both sides are being hyperbolic — Democrats on the effects on health costs and Republicans on the effects on jobs.”

Those with long memories will recall that Mankiw was an economic adviser to the guy nominated by the Republican Party to run for president in 2012.

* DEMS KEEP HITTING TEA PARTY INTRANSIGENCE: The Democratic National Committee is out with a new web video recapping a range of network news coverage of the shutdown impasse. Meanwhile, the White House-allied Americans United for Change releases another video recapping coverage of the impact the shutdown is having across the country.

The idea is to show that a national storyline has been established placing blame for the shutdown directly on the willingness of Republicans to allow far right extremists’ unrelenting obsession with Obamacare to paralyze the whole system.

* AND DE BLASIO OPENS ENORMOUS LEAD: A new Quinnipiac poll finds Bill de Blasio opening up a truly huge lead over Republican Joe Lhota in the New York mayoral race, 71-21. What’s particularly notable is that likely voters say by 55-26 that de Blasio is more likely to keep them safe — despite attacks on his vow to end “stop and frisk” as “soft on crime.”

What else?

Greg Sargent writes The Plum Line blog, a reported opinion blog with a liberal slant -- what you might call “opinionated reporting” from the left.