There’s just the faintest whiff of default in the air in Washington, D.C., so the frequency of budget meetings is on the rise. Late last week President Obama and Speaker Boehner sounded confident they could make a deal that would reduce government spending by $4 trillion over ten years, but Boehner has backed off from what The New York Times characterizes as “a transformative proposal, with the potential to improve the ugly deficit picture by shrinking the size of government, overhauling the tax code and instituting consensus changes to shore up Medicare and even Social Security. It was a once-in-a-decade opening.”
Why? According to the Times’ analysis Boehner faced the realities of preserving his own power as speaker versus trying to get his own party to accept compromise on taxes; he also may be passing on a rare chance to get Democrats to compromise on major entitlements.
Kathleen Parker is another conservative voice making the case that Congressional Republicans may be pushing their advantage too far, turning their noses up at serious concessions from Democrats while making no progress on solving the immediate issue of the debt limit:
Few honest brokers think that we can prevent a financial catastrophe without both cuts and revenue increases, but there are surely ways to get there from here without necessarily punishing the poor or the wealthy.
Meanwhile, not raising the debt ceiling is fraught with peril. Even prolonging raising the ceiling is potentially hazardous before a default happens, as investors take preventive actions that could distort the money markets.
Republicans have made enormous advances toward government reforms that were viewed as unachievable a year ago. Voting no may have become the aphrodisiac of small-government conservatives, but it is not necessarily an act of bravery or wisdom.
Sometimes it’s just stubborn.
If Parker’s suggestion of possible pig-headedness by Republicans is too harsh, consider the perspective offered today by David Gergen: with Obama’s indication today that he won’t accept any short-term agreement, all of the players have now painted themselves into their separate corners, and we all will pay the price if they don’t find their ways out:
Republican and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, fortunately, agree that it is essential to avoid a default on the debt. They are right. But to get there, each side is going to have to give a little. It is impossible to imagine either side doing what it would take to reach a $4 trillion deal; the GOP won’t ever agree to tax increases of as much as $800 billion to $1 trillion, nor will Democrats agree to major entitlement cuts. They especially won’t do it in the rush of last-minute negotiations over the next few days.
But in the name of fiscal sanity, they may be willing to agree to a much more modest set of compromises—something that prevents default, allows dust to settle, gives them a chance to build up support back home and keeps negotiating over a longer period of time.
Props to the GOP for getting Democrats to agree to so much of what Republicans want; please don’t get carried away and push for “too much” and not get the debt ceiling resolution that’s needed right away.