October 28, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker John Boehner (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Here’s the bottom line on the next budget showdown: there will be a deal if, and only if, Republicans can get over their “principled” aversion to compromise. If they want a deal, there’s one to be had.

After all, almost no one likes the status quo — sequestration. So it shouldn’t be hard to find something which is better for both sides.

Greg nailed this earlier today, noticing that some Republicans were worried that budget negotiations were a “political trap” because Democrats might insist on tax increases. They’ve had exactly the same fears about the farm bill and immigration: just entering into negotiations with Democrats, the radical group seems to believe, can only end with Republicans selling them out.

In reality, however, the budget situation is exactly the sort of thing that two healthy parties should be able to strike a deal over, even if, as Chris Cillizza correctly notes today, the “political middle” in Congress has largely disappeared. To oversimplify a bit: it’s no harder for two parties to agree on a midpoint between $0 and $1 trillion as it is for them to agree to the midpoint between $495 billion and $505 billion. All that it takes is the willingness of both sides to strike a deal.

Among Republicans, the problem isn’t just hostility to negotiations, although that is a big problem.

Beyond this, Republicans are just not willing to do the hard work of articulating their priorities.

On the budget, this would require acknowledging, first of all, that their own budget numbers don’t add up, and second of all that they can probably get the deficit reduction that they want or the spending cuts they want or prevent any tax increases, but they can’t strike a deal if they’re unwilling to budge on all three. They need to prioritize.

This, I think, an under-appreciated part of what makes the GOP a “post-policy” party. It’s not just failure to, say, draft an alternative to the Affordable Care Act. It’s also about refusing to distinguish between aspects of the Affordable Care Act they really hate and those which they only mildly dislike (or, if they were really honest, those they actually support). Even if you want to compromise, it’s almost impossible for negotiations to work (what Greg called “the normal give and take of governing”) if you can’t make those kind of decisions.

From everything we’ve heard, however, the Democrats are ready to deal (small, big, whatever) if and when they have a partner. We’ll just have to wait and see whether they have one.