The Morning Plum: Dems break GOP addiction to chaos governing. But will it last?

October 17, 2013
President Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Obama (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

So Congress has passed, and Obama has signed, legislation ending the government shutdown and lifting the debt limit. Obama and Dems won. But what, exactly, did they win? Dems won two victories on principle, but their implications for the future remain uncertain.

It continues to escape many commentators, but both sides — not just Obama and Democrats, but conservative Republicans, too — saw this as a battle over an important principle: The question of whether conducting policy negotiations while one side is wielding the threat of default and economic chaos constitutes appropriate governing. Republicans don’t describe their position in those terms, but they do, in fact, believe policy negotiations should be conducted in a context in which a debt limit hike is ambiguously said to be conditional on the outcome of those talks. Dems don’t believe this constitutes appropriate governing. They think it ensures nonstop crisis and destabilization, and threatens further harm to the country later.

By holding the line amid tough conditions, Obama and Dems established that they will not negotiate on the terms Republicans are insisting upon — an important victory on principle. As Jonathan Cohn details convincingly, agreement on the importance of this principle is precisely why Obama and Dems were able to maintain unity throughout.

Democrats also won a second victory on principle: They forced Republicans to allow a majority to prevail in the House. The outsized influence the conservative wing wields over the GOP leadership — preventing a vote on something that would pass with Democrats – combined with that bloc’s insistence on threat of destruction to force Dems to accept the unacceptable, caused the paralysis. But the outcome revealed GOP leaders would cast off both under severe political duress, breaking the conservative Republican “legislative cartel.”

The question is whether this will matter for upcoming budget talks and for the government shutdown and debt limit deadlines next year. That will turn on whether GOP leaders are really prepared to resist the conservative wing’s insistence on more of the same later. I’ve laid out why Dems don’t expect a rerun of debt limit extortion. Brian Beutler also is skeptical of a rerun. But this remains to be seen.

On budget talks, the future will turn on whether this battle has left enough non-Tea Party Republicans so fed up with House GOP chaos governing that they will agree to compromises with Dems that will infuriate the right. Some 87 House Republicans voted with Dems last night. In the Senate, Jeremy Peters reports that there is movement underway:

In the Senate, there were already signs that an emergent group of 14 centrist senators from both parties was looking to make an impact on the fiscal battles ahead. The group, led by Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, and Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, has already planned to meet in the coming weeks. Mr. McCain, also a member, said Wednesday, “We are not going to let this kind of partisanship cripple this body and injure the American people.”

There are still no signs even sensible Senate Republicans are ready to give on another core difference between the parties — over the need for new revenues. And the sequester gives Republicans leverage going into the talks. So there’s no telling whether yesterday’s Dem win will translate into a long term thaw. But it was an important victory on principle nonetheless — one that does make future progress more likely, even if it doesn’t guarantee it.

* PROSPECTS FOR FUTURE COOPERATION BRIGHTEN? E.J. Dionne has a good column noting that it is now on sensible Republicans to do a better job marginalizing the right, and that yesterday’s outcome gives them an opening:

The irony the centrists must confront is that there is now a larger opening for moderate governance precisely because foes of the far right’s extra-constitutional abuses of the congressional process stood firm. In doing so, they brought a large majority of the American people with them. Republicans paid a very high price for a benighted strategy, which gives the most thoughtful among them at least a chance of pushing their party back to more reasonable ground.

* WHAT REPUBLICANS WON IN THE STANDOFF: This quote, from GOP Rep. Thomas Massie, just about sums it up:

“Goose egg, nothing, we got nothing.”

But, look, it’s been obvious for months that the debt limit never actually gave Republicans any real leverage. It was only a matter of time until this basic fact forced Republicans’ hand.

* ANOTHER DEBT LIMIT FIGHT? Buried in the Post’s overview of the resolution to the crisis is this matter-of-fact tidbit:

Enforcement of the debt limit is suspended until Feb. 7, setting up another confrontation over the national debt sometime in March, independent analysts estimated.

This is key: it signals that the next debt limit deadline is likely to be deeper into 2014 than the February 7th deadline indicates, thanks to Treasury measures (indeed, it’s likely to be later than March). This will only make a confrontation over it harder politically for the GOP.

 * BOEHNER’S JOB IS SAFE: The Associated Press has a fascinating series of interviews with conservative House Republicans who disagreed with the final outcome to the crisis but nonetheless say John Boehner is safe as Speaker. GOP Rep. John Fleming:

“I think his stock has risen tremendously, and certainly he has great security as our leader and our speaker.”

So Boehner’s strategy of taking us right up to the brink, to prove he fought the good fight until the bitter end, in order to minimize the damage among conservatives when the eventual surrender came may have worked. But at what cost?

* HOWEVER, SOME GOP UNREST REMAINS: This tweet from Jonathan Strong, who is plugged in with House Republicans, could prove important later:

From conversations last night, I would take all the praise we’re hearing of Boehner from Rs with a grain of salt. Undercurrents of unrest.

Remember, new government shutdown and debt limit deadlines loom in a few months; we may see agitation for more crises and concessions.

* QUOTE OF THE DAY, TEA PARTY REALITY-DENIAL EDITION: Courtesy of GOP Rep. Mick Mulvaney, on the question of whether Republicans fear staging more crises later could result in another GOP debacle:

“The natural inclination is to say, no, it’ll be exactly the same,” he said. “But if we can figure out a way to drive that message home that this is about fairness, this is about principle,” he added, “then the outcome may well be different.”

Yes, the problem here was that the message wasn’t good enough, not that Democrats were never, ever going to unwind Obama’s signature domestic accomplishment under an extortion threat! Still, this means there’s potential for more crises later.

* TED CRUZ KEEPS HIS FRAUD ALIVE: The Texas Senator’s reaction to the GOP surrender:

“Unfortunately, the Washington establishment is failing to listen to the American people.”

Yep. As noted here yesterday, Ted Cruz’s strategy can’t possibly fail; it can only be failed by the corrupt Republican establishment. So he’ll do this again. As Pete King says, it’s on sane Republicans not to let this happen again.

* AND YOUR SORELY NEEDED THURSDAY COMIC RELIEF, TEA PARTY EDITION: Business Insider’s Brett LoGiurato asks a range of Tea Party folks where and how they think we should cut spending, and finds that they just don’t really know for sure. This, even though many Tea Partyers were so sure that all of that runaway spending is set to destroy American civilization that they were willing to risk economic calamity to rein it in.

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.
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Jonathan Bernstein | October 16, 2013