If you locked 100 Americans in a room with a team of technical budget experts and told them they couldn’t leave until 60 of them could agree on a budget plan, this is what would emerge. Not because it is necessarily anyone’s ideal plan but because it is least objectionable to the largest number of people. It represents the political center of gravity.
Here’s the important thing to understand about the politicians who refuse to accept such a compromise: No matter what they say, they really care more about cutting taxes (in the case of Republicans) or protecting spending (in the case of Democrats) than they do about fixing the deficit.
Steven Pearlstein is a Pulitzer Prize-winning business and economics columnist at The Washington Post.
Their fantasy is that if they hold out just a little bit longer, if they recite their poll-tested talking points just a few more times, if they can raise just a bit more money to buy an even bigger legislative majority in the next election, they can finally win. And because both sides cling to this unachievable fantasy and have their entire political reason for being tied up with it, there is no instinct for compromise.
You can forget about the Biden talks — certainly almost everyone else has. From the people appointed to participate, you can tell the process is meant to fail. The Republicans, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senate Whip Jon Kyl, are some of the party’s most partisan and ideological attack dogs. Jim Clyburn, the assistant House Democratic whip, is a cutout for Nancy Pelosi, who has made it plain that Social Security is not a problem and should not even be part of the discussion. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid’s choices are Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus and Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye, who have demonstrated on more than one occasion that they care more about protecting their own legislative prerogatives than about taming the budget deficit.
At this point, the only real hope for a comprehensive deal is with the Gang of Six — Democrats Mark Warner, Richard Durbin and Kent Conrad, and Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn and Mike Crapo. These six understand that neither side is going to “win” this battle and that having a good budget plan is more important than holding out for a perfect one that never materializes.
Now, however, this courageous gang is under tremendous pressure from party leaders, colleagues and special interests to abandon its heretical collaboration and compromise. There are last-minute snags, the timetable has been pushed back, and there are whispers of possible defections. Time to send in the SEALs.