Why Senate Democrats rejected the Collins deal

October 12, 2013

On Friday night and Saturday morning there was real interest, including from some in the Senate Democratic leadership, in the deal proposed by Sen. Susan Collins to reopen the government and raise the debt ceiling in return for 1) keeping the sequester's spending levels, 2) delaying the medical device tax, and 3) strengthening income verification under the Affordable Care Act. But as Saturday wore on the skeptics won out.

Senate Democrats turned on the Collins deal. (Mannie Garcia/Bloomberg News)
Senate Democrats turned on the Collins deal. (Mannie Garcia/Bloomberg News)

Three main arguments were made against the Collins deal. First, it locks in sequestration levels of spending for six months. Key Senate Democrats see that as a much larger, and more dangerous, concession than the old CR, which only agrees to it for six weeks. Democrats don't know how they're going to get rid of sequestration. But they don't want to agree to it.

Second, the deal's delay of the medical device tax meant it was, in fact, a concession in order to reopen the government -- and Democrats think it's important to convince the GOP that they can't win anything through this kind of hostage taking.

Third, in a few months, we'd be back at another shutdown/debt ceiling debate, and there'd be no reason for the Republican Party to approach it any differently.

Behind these arguments is the fact that Senate Democrats believe the GOP is losing this fight, and badly. What they hope happens next is this: The GOP eventually caves on the debt ceiling and reopening the government for some period of time. Budget negotiations can, at that point, begin.

Those negotiations aren't likely to go anywhere for awhile but the next time this fight comes around top Republicans will be desperate to avoid another shutdown that grievously wounds their party and, as a result, they may be more interested in making a budget deal that replaces sequestration in a way Democrats can accept.

This isn't the most persuasive plan in the world. But that's where we are right now: Neither Senate Democrats nor House Republicans nor the White House believe they have a plan to actually resolve this showdown. It's possible for the debt ceiling to get raised for a few weeks at a time, but ultimately, someone has to break, and at the moment, Senate Democrats aren't ready for it to be them.

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Ezra Klein | October 12, 2013