How do we judge between the two conflicting accounts that Democratic and Republican party leaders are offering as to why they haven’t reached a deal yet that could keep the government up and running?
According to the Democrats, the Wall Street Journal reports, President Obama, Speaker Boehner and Senator Majority Leader Reid agreed Thursday night on $38 billion in cuts from the current fiscal year’s budget — $5 billion more than the Democrats had been willing to cut — in return for the House Republicans agreeing to give up their demand to defund Planned Parenthood (a nonfiscal issue that is all about furthering the social-issue right’s war on choice).
According to the Republicans, the size of the cuts still divide the two parties, and they’re not saying much about the Planned Parenthood issue.
Think about this for a moment. Is it really credible that a difference of a couple billion dollars, in a budget of multiple trillions, could be the reason for the shutdown? Would Democrats and Republicans be unable to come to an accord over whether the cuts come to $35 billion or $39 billion? Is that really plausible?
Quantitative differences can be bridged. Qualitative differences, on the other hand, are harder to reconcile. There is a midpoint between, say, 35 and 39. There is not a midpoint when the choice is between funding Planned Parenthood and not funding Planned Parenthood.
That’s why I think the Democrats’ account is the more plausible.
Moreover, if House Republicans are indeed trying to alter social policy through refusing to pass a budget, they are merely following a well-established Republican playbook about how to leverage veto power over policy when you don’t control enough of government to actually enact policy (as is currently the case, since the GOP controls neither the Senate nor the White House). In California, Republicans control neither the governor’s office nor either house of the legislature, but since state law requires a two-thirds vote to raise taxes, and since Republicans command just over one-third of each legislative house, the GOP has periodically paralyzed government over the past several years by seeking to extract changes in nonbudgetary matters through withholding support for budget bills that would keep the government open. They have sought to weaken the state’s environmental regulations and change election laws as their price for keeping state government up and running — sometimes successfully, sometimes not. In the process, by rendering the state unable to pay its bills for months on end, they have damaged California’s credit rating, not to mention its ability to deliver the services to which it had already committed.
This looks to be exactly what Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives are doing now. Lacking the control of government that could enable them to straightforwardly defund Planned Parenthood, they are following the Sacramento Republicans’ road map of leveraging their ability to shut down the government to win the social-policy change they cannot otherwise secure. The burden of proof that this is really only about money, and the burden of blame should government shut down, are both squarely on the Republicans’ shoulders.